By Taylah Eastwell
“Similar to Black Saturday. The whole place is devastated”.
That’s how Kalorama CFA captain Bill Robinson describes the obliterating destruction in Kalorama following the unanticipated mega storm on Wednesday 9 June.
As one of the hardest hit areas of the Dandenongs, the Kalorama community is struggling, with many believing it will take years for the typically scenic township to recover.
“We’ve got between 30 to 40 houses that are a total loss and we, as a local fire brigade, are trying to ascertain how many places are damaged. I don’t know how many cars I’ve seen squashed,” Mr Robinson said.
Mr Robinson and his crew swung into action when the first call came through on the night of the storm, with only four members able to make it to the station due to the main Tourist Road being blocked by fallen trees.
“I was phoning other members saying can you please go and rescue such and such so they can get to the station. It was chaos, and scary to be out in it,” Mr Robinson said.
“We were only doing rescues – people in danger – one rescue we did took 30 minutes for us to get 200 metres because we had to traverse by foot to get in there,” he said.
The Kalorama crew spent half an hour trawling over and under fallen trees to get to an old gentleman unable to reach his medication after his house was “half totalled” in the storm.
“He said, ‘are you going to take me out now?’ and we said ‘no, we cant’. There was too much stuff between us and our vehicles. He said he was really after his medication because his kitchen had been wiped out. We found his meds, gave it to him, and set him up for the night and said we would be back in the morning. It took us from the morning to the afternoon for crews to cut their way into him and put him on a stretcher.
One of the CFA members is also a paramedic and went and checked on the elderly man every two hours while crews made their way into him.
Mr Robinson said the town was “very, very lucky to have not lost any life”, with the Kalorama crew attending around 50 rescue jobs in the one night assisted by neighbouring brigades and SES units.
“We had eight members of the community sleep at the station who had damage to their houses,” Mr Robinson said.
But while the wind and rain has eased, the local community isn’t through the storm yet, with many left homeless, displaced, traumatised and injured following the horror 24 hours and trees yet to fall, according to the CFA.
“There are a heap of trees that we call killer trees that have been damaged by the storm and are ready to fall over. We have logged about 30 of those that are ready to fall over with the next wind or rain event and these houses have people living in them, yet the state government have not yet mobilised anyone to start helping,” Mr Robinson said.
“We still have people living without water, without power, without heating. As of today (Monday 14 June) there are around 800 residents without power and it isn’t expected to be back for a month.
“The guys on the ground who I have spoken to have said it’s not just a case of hanging wires back on poles, the cables are under all the trees so they can’t get to the trees and the powerpoles are impacted by the trees. The transformers have been smashed and are on the ground, so they’ve got to replace poles and transformers all the way from Montrose to Olinda,” he said.
Mr Robinson said the Kalorama brigade has a “list of trees” that are going to fall in the Kalorama area, despite no assistance from the state government for removal.
“We’ve got a list of killer trees and no one is doing a bloody thing about it. The State Emergency Centre should be the ones out here on the ground doing all this stuff and chasing us up asking what we need. No one has asked us anything,” he said.
In between clearing trees and saving lives, Mr Robinson’s brigade took it upon themselves to feed hungry and displaced residents with the help of the Salvation Army.
“We fed 43 people on the first night off our own bat and a further 50 per night through the Salvation Army delivering hot packs. We sent a whole team of people to do door knocks and are expecting 200 people tonight. We are a fire brigade, not the local red cross. The state government is meant to be here looking after residents.We are happy to do it because we want to help but this should have been sorted by the government days ago,” he said.
“I’m concerned about my residents, the people that live up here. We are really happy to help but realistically, we are a fire brigade, sooner or later our members have to go back to work. It should be up to the state government.
Victorian Emergency Management Commissioner, Andrew Crisp visited Emerald on Tuesday 15 June, however no direct funding for storm-ravaged Hills communities was announced. Acting Premier James Merlino announced power outage payments of $1,680 per household for up to three weeks while power was restored.
“That’s terrific, because the whole of Kalorama is out. It will cover people that have been severely affected by this storm, which includes all my members, so it’s great,” Mr Robinson said.
A community hub has been established at Kalorama Oval, running entirely off community donations and volunteers focused on supporting the wider community through the harrowing times.
Members of the community have been encouraged to reach out to their local council and apply for state government personal hardship payments.
Those who do not reside on the mountain are asked to stay away for their own safety and the privacy of residents.