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As floods threaten Echuca, one Victorian has warned: ‘Sandbag the worst case scenario and then go higher’ | Kate Burke


i never thought I would be a controller on the main road to my home town of Echuca. But here’s how I spent nine hours on Sunday with other volunteers and emergency workers: management of local roads.

On Monday, I was shocked to hear that my town could face a once in 1,000 year flood. Emergency Management Victoria representatives told us: “There are things that are happening that have never been recorded before. So I’m not sugarcoating it. It’s serious.”

A peak at Echuca Marina 95.9m AHD is projected. A dam is being built in the eastern part of the city to protect the city center. The authorities fear that the existing 150-year-old dams will not be enough.

If events exceed current forecasts and planned mitigation strategies, much history will be at risk Historic Center of Echuca.

Authorities beyond the eastern levee are calling on flood-prone residents to prepare their properties, and on The Vic Emergency appevacuation is recommended.

Those likely to be unaffected are being asked to help friends and family and fill sandbags to shore up existing levee banks. We have been preparing for days, and the countdown is on. Time will tell whether the water will take us.

Water is just one risk. Perhaps the greater risk is complacency or denial. Despite early evacuation notices, more than 160 residents were rescued on Friday and Saturday in dangerous conditions.

Tin trucks, forklifts and hay trailers were the tools for the unofficial rescue team, which worked non-stop from early Friday afternoon until dawn Saturday.

Sandbags lined the streets of Rochester on October 14. Photo: James Ross/EPA

In nearby Rochester, a local farmer I’ll call Joe was close to tears as he reflected on the experience. Joe said he had never seen anything like it in his town before.

After the 2011 floods, the city was well prepared last week, with 30,000 sandbags filled and placed.

On Friday, the river had a mind of its own and sent water west of Campaspe Reservoir south of Rochester. Floodwaters flowed along the defunct Campaspe irrigation drainage system. It hit the city from the southwest with full steam.

By the end of the event, the entire city was flooded, the river level was 30 cm higher than in 2011.

Exhausted and emotional, Joe gave me advice to the people of Echuca: Don’t settle. Follow the advice of the authorities. Sandbag for the worst case scenario and then go higher again.

Rochester lifeguards are advising residents of nearby towns, such as Echuca, to avoid complacency.
Rochester lifeguards are advising residents of nearby towns, such as Echuca, to avoid complacency. Photo: James Ross/AAP

If you see a job that needs to be done, be safe and do it because the emergency services are overwhelmed. Join in and help if you can. If you are asked to leave, do so. Night rescues are dangerous and burdensome for residents and rescuers.

If you can’t help, stay home. Don’t clog the roads – and stay away from those who are working hard to save the city. This is an emergency, not a performance.

Although Joe never thought he would be a lifeguard on the water, I never thought I would be directing traffic. It was a strange but rewarding experience interacting with grieving travelers and concerned townspeople. But as we continue to break records, each of us will find ourselves in an unexpected job.


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