Victorian communities plunged into a blackout by deadly storms may not have their power back until Sunday, it has been confirmed, as emergency crews have detailed the harrowing experience of responding to the wild weather.
"It's been a nightmare couple of days," said State Emergency Service (SES) deputy controller of members, Jess Rice.
Ms Rice was on duty in the control room in Emerald, in the Dandenong ranges on Melbourne's eastern fringe, when the worst of the storms hit on Wednesday night and into Thursday.
The dangerous winds tore down trees and destroyed homes, leaving many residents cut off as rescue crews worked through potentially life-threatening conditions to reach them.
"It was nothing like I've ever seen, to be honest," Ms Rice said.
"Last year gave us a bit of a taste, and we thought that was crazy, but this was just another scale."
She said two members of the team, made up mainly of volunteers, came close to losing their lives.
The crew's car was crushed by a falling tree as they helped paramedics reach a man who was trapped in his home near Lilydale.
"It was really tough for us as volunteers to be making calls where people might die," Ms Rice said.
Ms Rice said it was the first time she had seen volunteers unable to get home to their families as conditions meant they had to bunker down where they were.
The Emerald unit only finished its initial jobs on Monday afternoon, but Ms Rice said more tasks had been added as crews reached people who had been without power or communication for days.
The storms battered Gippsland in the state's east, where flooding around Traralgon affected dozens of homes.
A man in his 60s died at Woodside, in eastern Victoria, and a woman died at Glenfyne, in the state's south-west.
Emergency Management Commissioner Andrew Crisp said of the nearly 2,000 initial impact assessments done by Tuesday afternoon, there were 98 homes left uninhabitable.
A further 86 were habitable but had been significantly damaged. More assessments are still to be done.
There were more than 20,000 homes and businesses across the state still without power by Tuesday afternoon, Mr Crisp said.
Power distribution company AusNet, which services the majority of the worst-hit areas, said 93 per cent of its customers had had their power restored.
That left just over 16,000 homes in its distribution area without power, down from the more than 220,000 left in the dark on Wednesday night.
Most of the people still waiting are located in suburbs in the Dandenong Ranges such as Mount Dandenong, Olinda, Belgrave and Lilydale.
AusNet and Mr Crisp said crews were working around the clock to get power back, with most homes expected to have electricity by Sunday.
But Mr Crisp cautioned "there's every chance that some won't be" fully connected by the end of the weekend.
Resident Gayle Townsend said she was not optimistic about the timeline.
"We're getting power from the generators but it's probably going to be a couple of months before we get on the grid again," she said.
Ms Rice said power outages and communications being down were some of the biggest issues for the community.
"A lot of them couldn't call triple-0," she said.
"A lot of them couldn't call [the SES line] 132 500 to ask for that assistance? which is frustrating because we knew this was an issue last year, with the NBN, not being able to call out is a big issue. So I think it's something we need to look at fixing."
Mr Crisp agreed "we do need to look at it", saying authorities needed to look at extending the backup battery life of phone towers beyond the current 24 hours.
Eight schools were closed as a result of the weather, and with utilities down many students were unable to participate in remote learning.
The Department of Education and Training said Monbulk College students in years 7 to 10 would continue with remote learning on Wednesday, while students from Mt Dandenong Primary School would temporarily relocate to Gladesville Primary School.
"Macclesfield Primary School, Olinda Primary School and Monbulk College will operate without power with extra measures in place to support students and staff, in line with their emergency management plan," a spokesperson said.
Communities urged to stay alert as clean-up continues
With more bad weather on the way later this week, there are concerns tens of potentially "killer trees" could pose a danger if winds and rain again pick up.
"We are not through this," Mr Crisp said.
Yesterday, the captain of the nearby Kalorama Country Fire Authority (CFA), Bill Robinson, criticised the Victorian government, saying it was not doing enough to help people after the storms.
Emerald SES Commander Ben Owen said he would be looking to sit down with the Acting Premier to have a "good and frank conversation" about the need for another SES unit in the area.
Yarra Ranges Mayor Fiona McAlister today told ABC Radio Melbourne while the CFA and SES crews had been active in the area, "we're hoping to get more support in the coming days".
"Thousands of trees, we've cleared roads along with other agencies helping? but the tree removal alone, to get things safe again, is a phenomenal job," he said.
Cr McAlister said it felt to many as if "the messaging about the seriousness of this took a while to get out".
"What happened up particularly up in the hills with the storm damage was quite catastrophic and that felt like it took a while for the message to get out."
Emergency Services Minister Danny Pearson acknowledged the "extraordinary" devastation that had been wrought on communities in the Dandenong Ranges.
He and the Acting Premier were in Traralgon on Sunday, for a helicopter tour of flood-damaged areas and to announce a relief fund, and was in Emerald on Tuesday morning.
"It is a balancing act, though. You wouldn't want first responders having to shepherd me through flood zones or areas where trees are down when their first job should be to support the community in need," he said.
"This is a marathon, not a sprint. It's not trying to trip over camera cords while the floodwaters are receding, this is about understanding the challenges that communities are facing and working with them as they work through the process of recovery."
© ABC 2021
13:11 AEST At least 67 people have been killed in the western Indian state of Maharashtra by torrential monsoon rains that have caused landslides and flooded low-lying areas, cutting off hundreds of villages.