Here to help: Council worker Wendy Linn cleans the home of emphysema sufferer Brian McNeilly. Photo: Eddie Jim
Morwell is moving into recovery mode this week after the Victorian government funded the first phase of the clean-up program to clear the ash left by the month-long Hazelwood coalmine fire.
Latrobe City Council has secured a $50,000 state government grant to ''kick-start the recovery program'' by purchasing 24 special filtered vacuum cleaners capable of picking up fine particles, and air-purifiers for Morwell's most vulnerable and elderly residents.
Mayor Sharon Gibson said door-knocking and welfare checks of the town's residents had determined that cleaning equipment was the most pressing need to ''make their lives more comfortable''.
She said the council's community support workers would bring the new equipment to help clean homes and gardens of ash and fine-particle matter left by the coalmine fire disaster that cloaked the town in toxic smog and raised health fears.
''If they need an air purifier to freshen the air inside their home, we can deliver one,'' Cr Gibson said, noting that the number of vacuum cleaners was ''not capped''.
A broader recovery package for Morwell is expected to be announced shortly by the Napthine government. Latrobe council is pushing the government for a free laundry and car-wash service, but negotiations are continuing.
''We understand the frustration with the debris caused by the smoke and ash is widespread and we are endeavouring to find ways in which we can help,'' Cr Gibson said.
Vulnerable Morwell residents including the elderly and those with health problems were advised to leave town a week ago to avoid the thick smoke from the blaze that has been burning in a disused part of the Hazelwood coalmine since February 9.
While many of his neighbours moved to Melbourne or elsewhere in Gippsland, Morwell resident Brian McNeilly, 84, said he had spent much of the past month indoors because the smoke from the fire was worsening his emphysema and heart problems.
Mr McNeilly said his cleaning appointment with a council worker was urgently needed after fire dust began seeping beneath his laundry door and through vents into his kitchen.
While he welcomed the assistance package, Mr McNeilly said the state government should have ''done a lot more in the first place'' about timely health warnings and resident relocation programs.