‘We’ll be back’: Clean-up continues in Dandenongs as troops deliver generators

The oddest things survived the storm that destroyed Nat and Lee Guest’s home in the Dandenong Ranges.

The china plates on the mantelpiece were fine, wine glasses were left intact in the cupboard, fish – mid-fry on the stove top – was still in the pan in the kitchen, and even the loo paper stayed on its roll.

The structure around it all, their home, was ripped open like a sardine can.

Lee and Nat Guest stand in the ruins of their home in Kalorama. Credit:Darrian Traynor

The Kalorama couple and their 13-year-old daughter were among those who bore the brunt of the storms that hit a week and a half ago.

A combination of the winds and the earth, soft from rain, brought down tall trees, which missed many homes but took out others.

The Guests had four big ones fall on their house, as well as on the van that Nat, who runs a curtains and blinds business, works from.

The remains of Nat and Lee Guest’s home.Credit:Darrian Traynor

The trees have been removed from the house now, but their home of four years is barely recognisable.

“Come in – sorry about the door,” Ms Guest said, stepping through the threshold where the door, and the front wall for that matter, used to be.

June 9 was a hellish night. They took shelter downstairs inside the bluestone walls, but after the first tree fell on the house, they scrambled to their next door neighbours’. They lost Tinker, their cocker spaniel, at one point and their neighbour went on a rescue mission, scooping up the dog, which was frozen in fear at the back door.

And now the clean-up begins. All the odds and ends that survived will eventually go back again.

“When we rebuild they’ll be back here again, like we will be,” Ms Guest said. “No question about being back here after. It has made the community hold even stronger.”

In Olinda, dozens of navy, army and air force personnel arrived on Sunday to start handing out about 200 generators to people who are still without power, and are predicted to be so until July 10.

Sergeant Mark Davis, who was leading the Australian Defence Force’s effort on Sunday, was preparing his troops for locals who wouldn’t necessarily roll out the red carpet.

“There’s going to be a lot of upset and angry people out there so I’m talking to them [the troops] about how to approach them, accommodate them and find out what they need,” he said.

Troops prepare to distribute generators to residents in the storm-ravaged Dandenong Ranges.Credit:Darrian Traynor

The loss of power for so long, Sergeant Davis said, was one of the main issues.

Olinda Country Fire Authority captain Phil Skiller, who has lived in the area for 40 years, said a lot of people will be “stoked” with the arrival of generators.

“It’s a pity it didn’t happen a week ago,” he said. “But it takes a while to get the wheels turning.”

On Sunday acting Premier James Merlino announced recovery funding for businesses affected by the storms. Businesses with an annual payroll of less than $10 million can apply for payments from the state and Commonwealth for up to three weeks if they were still without power as of June 17.

Olinda CFA captain Phil Skiller has welcomed the arrival of power generators.Credit:Darrian Traynor

Opposition energy spokesman Brad Rowswell was critical of what he said was a slow response from government.

”The last thing families need is another night without power in the freezing cold,” he said.

With temperatures in the Dandenongs as low as zero degrees, the cold eventually became too much for Edward and Heather Jewell-Tait, both 93, and they moved into their daughter Elizabeth’s place around the corner in Olinda.

“Elizabeth kept saying, ‘Mum, Mum, come here,’ and last night I gave in,” Mrs Jewell-Tait said.

Heather Jewell-Tait’s home is still without power, so she moved into her daughter’s place in Olinda.Credit:Darrian Traynor

Originally from England, the pair lived through the Blitz air attacks in London, and they got through the coronavirus pandemic fine, being in relatively good health and staying close to home. The “days of dinner parties and all that lark” are behind them, as Mrs Jewell-Tait put it.

“I’ve really not known anything like this at all,” she said of the storm, but she counted herself lucky as their home was undamaged.

Both slept through the storm, though Mr Jewell-Tait said the power was out when he got up to go to the toilet during the night. They spent the past few days using candles for light and their neighbour even hooked up a lead to some power so they could enjoy television one night.

“You pull yourself together and get on with it,” Mrs Jewell-Tait said.

On Sunday police were still stationed on the main roads to turn back city folk trying to get up the mountain, but by the afternoon a handful of tourists who could prove they had a booking were allowed as far up as Olinda to grab a meal and support local cafes devastated by the recent three-week lockdown.

Though outside help has started to arrive, for the first few days community members relied on each other.

Lee and Nat Guest have vowed to rebuild their home.Credit:Darrian Traynor

Back at the Guests’ place, neighbours and volunteers from the local fire brigade and State Emergency Service were among those who dropped off boxes of clothes and food.

“Nothing but volunteers left, right and centre, and hugs all round,” Ms Guest said.

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