Eight months ago, a severe storm slammed into the Victorian west town of Creswick, causing damage to 180 main residences.
As of this weekend, 24 residents are still displaced.
Many of those who have been able to return home are doing so in difficult and uncomfortable conditions as the wait continues for insurance claims to be settled and repairs to begin.
Cheryle and John Lenaghan’s townhouse was destroyed by the January 5 storm, just months after they purchased the property.
“The ceilings are gone. Everything in the house was saturated,” Mr Lenaghan said.
“When I walked in it was like a bomb had hit him,” Ms Lenaghan added.
The day after the storm, the couple contacted their insurers, whom they asked the ABC not to name, with their claim.
Initially ‘everything went well’, Mr Lenaghan said, with assessors dispatched and the couple settled into temporary accommodation.
But once the property was deemed “safe”, Ms Lenaghan said, “it all stopped”.
“We couldn’t get in touch [with the insurers]. Day after day after day, I sat waiting for three to four hours.
“I managed to reach someone, then nothing. They didn’t call back.
With the assistance of the Cafs Storm Recovery program, which is funded by the state government, the scope and survey of the repairs have been completed and approved.
But the Lenaghans are still awaiting confirmation from their insurer as to when repairs will actually begin, leaving them “in limbo”.
“We hope construction will start before Christmas, but we can’t see that happening.”
Only one room in the townhouse has electricity and heating and is isolated from the rest of the property by a blue tarpaulin.
In the small room, the grandparents sleep, cook, watch television and get ready for work.
Showers are taken by torchlight and their “wardrobe” consists of clothes neatly folded in piles on trestle tables. and hung on shelves in what was once the living room.
“We couldn’t stay here all day, we’d go crazy. We’re really lucky to have jobs, it’s a blessing,” Ms Lenaghan said.
Anxious wait for mother and daughter
Charlie Evans lives in Creswick with his 79-year-old mother, Margaret Trommestad.
Like the Lenaghans, their property suffered extensive damage in the storm.
“Hailstones about 10 centimeters [in diameter] were leaning against the door. The place was covered in organic matter,” Ms Evans recalled.
“Water seeped in, flooded through the doors.”
After spending months trying to get answers from their insurer, Hollard, about their claim, Ms Evans and Ms Trommestad said they still live with exposed concrete flooring in every room of their home, mold in a room and a weakened roof.
They filed a formal complaint with the Australian Financial Complaints Authority (AFCA) in May and were assigned a case manager last week.
“I spent 2.5 hours with them on the phone, and they were great. I was relieved it was finally happening,” Ms Evans said.
“We will mediate with the insurance company.”
In a statement, a Hollard spokesperson said:
“Hollard is committed to supporting customers with open complaints at Creswick to help them get back to their normal lives as soon as possible.
“Hollard will be contacting all Creswick customers affected by the January storms with an open claim to let them know what is happening and to resolve their claim as quickly as possible.”
At this point, it’s unclear when Ms Evans and Ms Trommestad’s case will be resolved and whether the roof will be able to weather another storm.
The mother and daughter said that in the event of another weather event matching the severity of January, they want the council to take more immediate and ‘practical’ action, including making an exception to help clear the debris on private property.
“In the event of a natural disaster, my God, I hate bureaucracy,” said Ms Trommestad.
The community-led recovery continues
Hepburn Shire Mayor Tim Drylie said the council would ‘love to help wherever they can’, but when private property and land are involved it gets ‘complicated in terms of accountability’.
“We have to abide by special rules and legislation imposed on us,” Cr Drylie said.
The mayor said a community recovery committee, representing those affected by the January storm, will meet for the first time on September 12.
While the mayor said he was still available to residents, at this stage the council’s storm recovery program will end in December.
The council is also working on a flood study that would assess the need to clean up Creswick Creek.
This study will require funding of at least $200,000 and the council will seek support from the state government, the mayor confirmed.