Victorian flood victims still waiting for insurance payouts nine months on

People in eastern Victoria whose homes were flooded nine months ago are still struggling to get insurance payouts and get their houses fixed.

And a review of the emergency authority’s management of the flood disaster has not yet been released.

It could be a grim preview of how flood recovery in NSW and Queensland’s floods could play out.

On June 10, the Traralgon Creek broke its banks around 6:30 am and within 10 minutes water was gushing through Traralgon streets and into houses.

An evacuation order was issued at 10:30 am.

It came after a severe storm swept through the region affecting 600 properties and damaging 140 homes, resulting in a local power station being evacuated and slashing its electricity generation.

Forty-two people were rescued from floodwaters near the Latrobe Valley town, including 12 plucked from cars in rising floodwaters by emergency helicopters.

Traralgon Creek broke its banks after more than 200mm fell across parts of its catchment.(Supplied by Jacob Backman)

Battling insurance companies and living in flood-damaged homes

Stephen Ruff lives in Berry Street, Traralgon and is still living in his home despite floodwaters causing structural damage, creating a mold problem, and leaving him without heating.

The floodwater was 15 centimeters high in parts of his house, his garage was flooded, floors saturated, and the ducted heating system destroyed.

“We’ve got walls sort of on a lean, a lot of cracking at the moment, and now nine months on we’re finding we can’t close internal doors,” he said.

His insurance company offered him one week in a caravan park after the flood damage.

“We couldn’t do that because we said what happens when the time is up? You go back home again,” he said.

Mr Ruff said he was yet to reach an agreement on an insurance payout.

“I’m just trying to get on with our lives, [but] we are battling with insurance companies, and I know that there are others in the same boat as us, “he said.

Floodwaters around a house in Traralgon.
Traralgon Creek is close to residential houses.(ABC News: Liz Hobday)

Meanwhile, several streets away Fiona Fullard, whose property backs onto the creek, said she only returned home in January after living in motels and a caravan park for six months.

She said getting tradespeople to fix her flood-damaged property was an issue, as was finding temporary accommodation.

And given her experience, she was worried about flood victims in Lismore and Queensland with around 3,600 uninhabitable houses in Lismore alone.

Residents trapped in ‘dangerous situation’

Two people hang on a cable below a helicopter hovering above floodwaters.
A helicopter rescue during last year’s Traralgon flood.(Supplied by Brian Ward)

Locals who live near Traralgon Creek were caught by surprise when the creek broke its banks.

Emergency warnings upgraded the flood event from a minor to a major flood at 2am, predicting the creek would peak later that afternoon. Instead, it peaked at 9am.

It left residents trapped in their homes and furious they were not given adequate warnings, leading authorities to apologize and admit their communications were slow.

Two cars stuck in floodwaters
Cars in floodwaters in Tennyson Court, Traralgon.(ABC News: James Bennett)

Emergency Management Victoria promised a review of its floods management, but it is still not finalized.

Independent member for Morwell Russell Northe said his community wanted answers.

Mr Northe said he had been promised the review would be publicly released next month.

“I’m hopeful. It contains some reasonable findings and recommendations [determines] why the emergency warning system failed local residents, “he said.

“It’s important to make sure the community can have confidence in our emerging emergency warning system.”

A man looks at documents on a table in his home.
Stephen Ruff has lobbied for decades for better mitigation and early warning systems for flooding in the town.(ABC Gippsland: Emma Field)

Local early warning flood system scrapped

The slow recovery and poor flood warning are all the more infuriating for residents as flooding in the region is relatively common.

The Traralgon Creek is in the middle of the large Latrobe Valley town, and there have been many floods recorded in the region – one in 1934 and more recently in 1993, 1995, 2007, 2011, 2012 and 2013.

Mr Ruff was part of a resident’s group in the 1990s that lobbied for an early flood warning system for the town, which was established and run by the local council in 1999.

This included text messages, phone calls, a town siren, and doorknocking.

But when Emergency Management Victoria took control of flood management following the 2009 Black Saturday Fires royal commission, resulting in emergency management reform, the local flood warning system was dropped.

“They’ve virtually taken flood management away from locals, so as far as I know everything is centered in Melbourne,” Mr Ruff said.

“Maybe they’ve got to get locals [involved] who actually have more knowledge of the area. “

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