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Wangaratta levies about to burst

Wangaratta residents are told to keep away from rivers, which look set to flood.

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Emergency crews will concentrate their efforts around the sodden towns of Shepparton and Horsham as floodwaters reach their highest levels.

State Emergency Service volunteers are monitoring the Avoca River in Charlton, north-west of Bendigo, as it reaches its peak.

Floodwaters there have already forced the closure of the town’s police station.

Val Bourke bring in the washing in her flooded backyard in Charlton on September 6. Click for more photos

Flood watch

Val Bourke bring in the washing in her flooded backyard in Charlton on September 6. Photo: Justin McManus

SES director of operations Tim Wiebusch said this afternoon the situation was ‘‘still evolving’’ as Premier John Brumby warned the worst was yet to come.

In Wangaratta, about 60 homes are potentially under threat after a second weak point was detected in a levee bank on the banks of the King River.

Residents are being evacuated amid the increased risk.

LATEST FROM SES: EVACUATION WARNINGS AND FLOOD WATCHES

ROAD CLOSURES DUE TO FLOODING

Thousands of Victorians are so far affected and a damage bill in excess of $10 million looms for insurers in the wake of the state’s worst flood in more than a decade.

By this afternoon, the SES said about 250 homes had been affected.

More evacuations were expected today and tomorrow when swollen rivers around Wangaratta, Shepparton, Horsham and Sale reached their peak, the SES said.

Send your photos of the floods to scoop@theage.com.au

Mr Wiebusch said some livestock had been lost but no deaths or serious injuries had been reported.

Good news for some

While country Victoria struggled to mop up today, Melbourne’s catchments added 11.6 billion litres to the city’s dams in just 24 hours - the biggest single-day rise in more than three years.

Melbourne Water said that while torrential rain lashed Wangaratta, Euroa, Ballarat, Shepparton and Horsham over the weekend, Melbourne’s already-wet catchments added 18.6 billion litres since Saturday and would continue rising through the week.

‘‘From 8am on Sunday to 8am today, Melbourne’s dams added 11.6 billion litres - about 11 days’ water supply for Melbourne - boosting storages by 0.6 per cent, from 42.5 per cent to 43.1 per cent full,’’ a Melbourne Water spokesman said.

At the same time last year, the dams were 28.1 per cent full.

Electricity restored to homes

A Powercor spokesman said only ‘‘a couple of hundred’’ homes remained without power.

He said 65,000 residences in the western and central parts of the state suffered power outages at the height of the storms, but the remaining customers would be ‘‘back on by the end of today or early tomorrow’’.

About 2500 SP AusNet customers are still without electricity, predominantly in the Dandenong Ranges areas of Belgrave, Upwey and Sassafras, a spokeswoman said.

There are also pockets of affected customers in the northern Victorian town of Whitfield and in Leongatha and Warragul in the state’s east.

Electricity was expected to be restored to the majority of customers by 11pm tonight although some house-level faults could take until tomorrow lunchtime, the spokeswoman said.

United Energy has restored power to most of the 70.000 customers who lost electricity on Saturday night.

At 1.30pm today, 1250 customers remained without power in areas including Mt Martha, Mornington and Frankston.

A United Energy spokesman said most of these homes were expected to be reconnected by late evening.
Wangaratta residents still at risk

In Wangaratta, the SES said the floodwaters had peaked, and the area's chief emergency controller said the water levels were unlikely to rise much higher than they are now.

At a briefing at 10.30am today, SES floods incident controller Keith O'Brien said the homes around the town's One Mile Creek and Three Mile Creek areas, which were last night warned about potential inundation, looked likely to be safe today.

But he warned that around 30 to 50 residents who live near a levee in the town's Wilson Road could still be at risk.

A levee on the road, which is on the banks of the King River, is at risk of crumbling, and if it does will cause nearby homes to flood.

A second weak point has been detected in the levee bank and residents are being evacuated.

It’s believed about 60 homes are potentially under threat.

Residents in Wilson Road were warned of this danger yesterday afternoon.

"The risk still remains for the 30 to 50 houses downwater from the Wilson Road levees. But we are hopeful it won't get much worse than it is at the moment," Mr O'Brien said.

Shepparton under threat

In Shepparton, Victoria Lake Caravan Park manager Melissa Elliott is watching the Goulburn River running behind the park climb steadily.

By 5pm today, the river has reached about 9.72 metres but would need to rise to 11.2 metres to spill over the levy as it did during floods in 1993.

The Bureau of Meteorology currently expect a peak at around 11.1 metres tomorrow.

Locals are hoping the low-level Victoria Lake will take some of the flood waters.

Ms Elliott said it was a waiting game to see where the water was going.

‘‘It certainly is a threat to us,’’ she said.

Caravans owned by city dwellers have been contacted to advise of the deluge that may hit their holiday homes.

‘‘We’ve got a lot of tourists in the park at the moment, so we’re trying to advise them as to the best course of action as to whether they stay or hit the roads before they close,’’ she said.

Army to help SES crews

The federal government has sent send 50 Australian Defence Force members and vehicles to the Shepparton area today.

The soldiers will help SES and CFA emergency crews, which have been working since Saturday morning, on tasks like sand-bagging or impact assessment. They will join 150 extra police and over 800 SES volunteers working to manage and mop up the flood waters.

Shepparton mayor Geoff Dobson said the town was hoping that the three waterways that meet in there - the Goulburn, the Broken and Sevens Creek - would peak at different times.

The town is on a floodplain, so it was hoped the water would spread out at Shepparton and cause minimal damage, he told ABC Radio.

''If that happens then we can hopefully minimise (damage),'' he said.

The flooding did bring some benefits, such as watering the Murray-Darling system and possibly washing out some locust eggs, Mr Dobson said.

''It may well be a lot of the locust hatchings are flooded out,'' he said.

''If that's the case they'll be drowned, so hopefully that might minimise it (a locust plague).''

Rivers still rising, more rain coming

The Bureau of Meteorology said some rivers had already peaked and were subsiding, while others were still rising.

''We're not expecting Wangaratta to get all that much higher,'' bureau hydrologist Chris Lahy said.

''Benalla and Euroa have well and truly peaked and are on the way down. Euroa is probably down 2.5 metres from the peak on Saturday night.

''Water levels are starting to get quite high coming into Shepparton from the Broken River and Seven Creeks. It could climb a couple more metres there and peak on Tuesday. Charlton, more to the west, is close to its peak now. Waters will start rising around Horsham today.''

The bureau said some rain had fallen in flood-affected parts of the state today, but it was not heavy.

Senior forecaster Richard Carlyon said Melbourne had seen several ‘‘short, sharp downpours’’ during the day but nothing that would exacerbate flood conditions.

The state’s highest falls today were recorded at Wilsons Promontory (21mm) and Portland (10mm).

Showers are expected to clear overnight, giving the state two days to dry out ahead of more rain on Thursday.

Mr Carlyon said an active cold front would bring 10-20mm of rain across the state on Thursday, and up to 40mm of rain on the flood-stricken north-east ranges on Thursday night.

Fears of sewage overflows

Premier John Brumby, who visited Wangaratta yesterday, said people who were unable to return to their homes may be eligible for immediate emergency assistance grants of up to $1060, while means-tested personal hardship grants of up to $26,000 were also available.

Residents in some flood areas have been told to drink bottled water or boil their water as a precaution against sewage overflows into river systems.

Mr Brumby said Victoria's new telephone emergency alert system - developed after the Black Saturday bushfires - had been used seven times to warn 51,000 Victorians of flood threats.

Towns mopping up after flood waters peaked yesterday include Euroa, Myrtleford, Bright and Mount Beauty.

In Benalla, about 10 properties were evacuated after water levels peaked at four metres yesterday morning, according to the State Emergency Service.

The wild weather played havoc with V/Line timetables in the worst-affected parts of the state, with roads becoming unpassable for the Wangaratta and Bright coach. The service has been suspended until further notice.

Strong winds also damaged power poles around Watergardens, affecting Metro and V/Line train services between Watergardens and Southern Cross Station.

The Insurance Council of Australia declared a state of catastrophe yesterday and established a taskforce to work with governments and a 24-hour hotline to manage the high volumes of calls from policyholders.

Monthly rainfall in one weekend

Bureau of Meteorology senior meteorologist Terry Ryan said many places around the state had recorded their average rainfall for September over the weekend.

Bureau data of rainfall for the seven days to 9am yesterday showed the heaviest falls were concentrated in the state's north-east (Mount Buffalo, 246 mm; Harrietville, 138 mm; and Mount Hotham, 166 mm) and lower north-east (Mount Tabletop, 129 mm, and Strathbogie North, 131 mm).

''This is seriously heavy rain for Victoria,'' he said. ''And it comes when the catchments are wet with about average falls in August, so there's a lot of run-off.''

In contrast, Melbourne, Mitcham and Monbulk received 24 millimetres in the same seven days, while Altona recorded eight millimetres and Springvale 12 millimetres. Melbourne's water storages were 42.5 per cent full yesterday.

The rainfall was accompanied by high westerly winds between midnight and 3am yesterday, with much of metropolitan Melbourne experiencing winds in excess of 100km/h.

In the far north, Barmah Caravan Park owner Cheryl Ellis said that while it would be days before the rains made it down the Murray to Barmah, she had notified siteholders below the levy bank that a flood could occur on Wednesday or Thursday.

However, despite the potential for disruption, she said there was a silver lining.

''As far as the state is concerned, this is a flood we needed to have,'' she said. ''The land is getting a badly needed drink and that will get us through the next year or so.''

The famed red gums in the nearby state park have weathered a decade of drought and while none have been lost, the trees are showing signs of stress.

''This water is just an absolute gift,'' Ms Ellis said. ''This inundation will be fantastic for them.''

With DAVID ROOD, THOMAS HUNTER and ROBYN GRACE