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Dairy town starts reopening doors as waters recede

AFTER a record-breaking flood in Rochester, water in the Campaspe River has receded enough for the people of the dairy farming town to begin the enormous task of cleaning up.

The main bridge across the river reopened yesterday, along with the chemist and the hardware store, so that people could access medicine and tools needed for the recovery.

Major employers Murray Goulburn and Devondale were still shut, schools were significantly water-damaged, and the town's recently redeveloped sportsground has been destroyed.

In the centre of town yesterday afternoon a small army of able-bodied men were tearing up tonnes of sodden carpet and taking it away by the bulldozer load, shops were being emptied of mud with high-pressure hoses, and sludge was being swept off the footpaths.

Most businesses do not have power yet, and the Shire of Campaspe has issued a notice that water and sewerage will not return until further notice.

Some shop owners were angry with the State Emergency Service, saying it had given them insufficient notice to evacuate on Friday and wrong information about the flood's height.


Treasure Island Jewellery owner Terri Bryant said the evacuation was ''poorly managed'', with only two hours' notice provided, and the townsfolk had been told the water ''would only be ankle high''.

About 80 per cent of the town was inundated, with water going more than a metre over the floorboards in many properties.

But Clive Edwards, managing director of agricultural equipment supplier Lely, said there was ''no blame'' even though the flood's ferocity had surprised everyone.

Principal of Rochester Primary School, Graham Hodgins, said five buildings had been damaged, including the new multipurpose building constructed with $2 million of federal government stimulus money.

Chemist owner Brett Phillips said he had opened to dispense medication, even though there were no doctors in town.

''We had a family on an isolated farm call in with a four-year-old boy with a raging ear infection. I called a doctor in Melbourne to ask what to do,'' Mr Phillips said.

More than 100 of Rochester's residents are still based at an evacuation centre at Echuca College. They were visited by Prime Minister Julia Gillard and state Opposition Leader Daniel Andrews yesterday.