Monday, 3 October 2016

Fun with floodwater

Hi everyone,

Monday, and I'm typing this after dinner with a glass of wine.  Some peace and quiet feels good.

It's been another couple of days heavily dominated by the weather.  Sunday actually dawned fairly bright, warm and peaceful but the weather bureau predicted that this couldn't last, so Dad, former bro-in-law and I spent the morning running new lines of wire down a fence that needed rejuvenation.
As you can imagine, I've been checking river levels pretty religiously the last week or so.  At midday, the Broken River was still rising, and so the president of a neighbouring unit and I agreed that we should do some doorknocking in areas that might be affected by the rising water, confirm people were aware of the risk, and that they knew both some initial steps to take and how to get help.  We sent out mixed crews from both units to visit different areas and covered a large whack of what we'd intended.  One of the things about doorknocking I've learned (from this and other jobs) is that you never know what'll come to the door.  I had one young man open the door in his underpants in a completely insouciant manner.  One of my colleagues was pretty sure she'd interrupted a couple who had been having sex.  Perhaps it's just as well that emergency services are schooled not to judge people!

We were clear of the doorknocking job a little after 1800 and I was starting to head home when a pager message came through saying that a chap near the river considered his property at imminent risk of flooding.  The initial plan was that we should head out and sandbag it.  A recce from the neighbouring unit suggested we could proceed cautiously.  In the battery of messages back and forth, my phone's battery infuriatingly went flat and I had to go to the first place I could find (a Red Rooster outlet) to recharge it.  This, however, had a perk: I was still in uniform and discovered that Red Rooster gives emergency services personnel a 20% discount.  Literally winner winner chicken dinner!

In the event, we started sandbagging the property a bit after 2300 with crews from my unit and the neighbouring unit.  Some members set to work filling sandbags with the sand sourced by the Municipal Emergency Resource Officer. Others (including me) trolleyed or wheelbarrowed them to the laying sites, and a third team laid them so to best protect the property.  Everyone worked hard, and (what was especially pleasing) worked well together.  We were finished by about 0100.

The weather decided to make things interesting in the middle of this job.  The warning from the Bureau of Meteorology had prognosticated
... Damaging winds, averaging 50 to 65 km/h with peak gusts of around 100 km/h are likely with thunderstorms and about elevated parts of the South West, Central, North Central, Northern Country, Northeast, West and South Gippsland and East Gippsland districts. Wind gusts may reach 120 km/h in elevated areas above 1000 metres.
These winds are expected to contract to eastern districts early Monday morning.
HEAVY RAINFALL which may lead to FLASH FLOODING is possible accompanying the cold front across the same districts. Falls up to 25mm should be common and isolated totals may reach 50mm with thunderstorms and on the higher ranges.
Locations which may be affected include Bendigo, Shepparton, Seymour, Maryborough, Ballarat, Geelong, Melbourne, Wodonga and Wangaratta.

Despite the late hour and the weather, the Tatura team worked, not only hard but very professionally and without a word of complaint.  I couldn't be prouder of my Unit.

Because it was late, we took the crew for a late bite to eat and a debrief at the 24-hour McDonalds in Mooroopna, which I think they appreciated.  We did a quick flood recce at the Watts Road bridge and hen returned to the shed to wash the mud off the vehicles and pack up.  I finally toppled into bed about 0445 in the morning.

I slept till 0930 this morning and then somehow found myself neck deep in (you guessed it) still more SES administrative work.  In honesty, I need to get this sort of thing under control: I think I'm broadly a good controller but it's kind of taking over my life.

Operational duties kicked in just after midday when I was asked to serve as a crewperson, taking the Unit's floodboat up the Goulburn to check for homeless people camping near the Causeway who had been cut off by the river and needed to be transported to drier land.  The River looked even broader when we were on it, and it was flowing very strongly.  There wasn't as much debris as I'd expected, though.  In the event, we only found one person who had been cut off.  He said he was willing to take his chance with the rising water and (in my view foolishly) declined the offer to be relocated.  I hope we don't have to go and try to retrieve his body in a few days time.

I was at a bit of a loose end after the boat job, so I went back to the shed in Tatura, sharpened some chainsaws and did some paperwork until early evening, when it was time to go back into Shepparton for a short evening course on working safely at bushfire events.  This is a bit of a necessity for SES members as we're fairly often used to assist the fire brigade during the summer fire season.  Very productive course, and I was pleased with how much I took in.

I was back here at the farm by about 2220, and warmed up dinner.  Looking forward t bed tonight and hopefully a little respite before the rivers start rising again, probably at the end of the week.  I can't believe how much energy I'm putting into SES at the moment, what with the weather and flood risk and all.  How is it possible to work so hard and yet still not be in employment?

Anyway, last night is catching up with me.  Bedtime!

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