The Defence Force will help evacuate residents in Victoria’s north as the flood crisis worsens and scores of homes remain under water.
Floodwaters are expected to rise in Gippsland and the north-east, particularly around Benalla and Wangaratta, in what residents are calling the worst floods in more than a decade.
Hundreds of homes have already been evacuated and residents are taking shelter at the six relief centres that have been set up across the state.
Victorian Premier John Brumby has been briefed by the police, fire and emergency chiefs.
He says 150 extra police and 50 federal Defence personnel are being deployed to northern Victoria.
“We’ve been in touch with the Federal Government – there’ll be some Defence deployment tomorrow,” Mr Brumby said.
“[They will be] relatively small numbers, but there’ll be 50 Defence personnel in the north of the state assisting with things like relief, evacuations or relocations and assisting with things like sandbagging and holding back the water.”
Mr Brumby says about 250 homes in the north-east and central region have already been inundated with water, but he says it is set to get worse.
“We expect the number of houses to increase particularly in the west of the state and running up the Goulburn again through the north-east tonight and tomorrow so there could be hundreds of more that are affected,” he said.
Mr Brumby will soon head to Wangaratta, in the north-east, where flooding has lead to scores of evacuations.
About 40,000 Victorian residents are without power due to strong winds.
Powercor and SP Ausnet have brought in extra crews to repair fallen powerlines in areas stretching from Melbourne’s outer-east to Gippsland and around Warrnambool, Ballarat and Daylesford.
SP Ausnet spokesman Joe Adamo is urging people to be patient.
“At this stage, some customers may experience lengthy delays,” he said.
“We don’t have an actual timeframe. Due to the winds and the weather forecast, crews are working as safely as possible to restore power.
“We do stress and advise people to keep clear of all or any fallen powerlines or hazards that they come across and report them immediately to our 24 hour faults hotline which is 13 17 99.”
The ABC’s television signal and radio services in Ballarat have also been affected by storms.
The signals went down about 11pm when trees fell on powerlines at the Lookout Hill transmitter site.
The service is expected to return tomorrow, when it is safe enough to set up an emergency transmitter.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard says the thoughts of all Australians are with those who are dealing with the flood damage in Victoria.
She says she has spoken with Mr Brumby to convey her sympathies.
Residents are being evacuated in the west with the SES issuing an evacuation alert for about 20 properties at Skipton, near Ballarat. They have been told to meet at the football oval.
SES spokesman Lachlan Quick says water is still running into catchments.
“We’re going to have impacts through Glenorchy and into Horsham that will probably occur tomorrow to late tomorrow,” he said.
About 70 properties at Benalla in the state’s north-east have been evacuated and the flooding has isolated some homes.
In nearby Nagambie, a caravan park has been evacuated, while floodwaters have cut off about 20 people at Dargo.
The manager of the Paradise Island Caravan Park at Wangaratta, Shane Downey, says the water levels are rising at a rate of about half a metre per hour.
“It’s come over the levy bank from the Ovens River and it’s also come through the back water,” he said.
The park has been evacuated, but nearby houses are not currently under threat.
Floodwaters have also engulfed Wangaratta’s Painters Island Caravan Park, with water levels expected to peak in the region on Tuesday.
Mr Quick says new flooding in Myrtleford, Bright and Mt Beauty will peak today, but the flooding emergency will remain widespread.
“Shepparton will be affected from about Monday onwards,” he said.
“Wangaratta will peak above moderate flooding on Tuesday, Horsham will be affected from Monday and Tuesday.
“Charlton will rise to major flood level later today and the Macalister River will have impacts today and tomorrow and Sale is a potential one.
“Possible further releases could see the flooding of Newry.”
Gippsland residents are being warned to prepare now, with Sale being identified as possibly being under threat.
Jen Wilkinson, who lives at Dargo in Gippsland, says melted snow and debris from the storms are rushing through the Wonnangatta River near her home.
“We can see the river, the brown flooding river with logs speeding down and occasional trees floating down so it’s a moderate flood here,” she said.
Mr Quick from the SES says there have been more than 2,000 calls for help so far this weekend.
“We have used emergency alert several times – I think we’re up to four or five times now statewide,” he said.
“That’s the emergency message that will come across as either a text message or on landlines – it’ll come across as a recorded voice message.
“We do alert the communities that look like they’ll be severely affected using that. We do ask that you be prepared to relocate if necessary if you’re in low lying or flood prone areas.”
Meanwhile, the Victorian Government has announced relief funds for people affected by the floods.
People who cannot go home and need basic financial help will be eligible for grants of about $1,000.
Larger grants of about $26,000 will be available for those whose homes have been structurally damaged.
SES operations manager in Wangaratta, Alan Barnard, says the grants will be a welcome relief for people whose homes have flooded.
“From what I can see at the moment I think there’s certainly going to be a significant number of people who are going to be able to take up those grants,” he said.
“I think it’s great the Government has got on board so quickly to assist our people in their greatest time of need.”