Heightened landslide risk as Victoria faces spring drenching

Vast areas of Victoria burnt out in last summer’s bushfires and the Great Ocean Road are at heightened risk of dangerous landslides, as wet weather is forecast to continue through spring.

The coming weeks are forecast to bring wetter than usual conditions, as a La Nina weather pattern exacerbates the risk of landslides covering roads and damaging properties.

A landslide at Separation Creek on the Great Ocean Road on Thursday.Credit:State Emergency Service

The State Emergency Service voiced rising fears about the landslide risk as rain drenched much of Victoria this week.

The SES responded to 132 incidents in the 24 hours to 2pm on Thursday. Warrnambool was one of the areas hardest hit.

Road authorities are also growing increasingly concerned about traffic safety ahead of restrictions being lifted in Melbourne, as city-bound drivers hit unfamiliar country roads.

Victoria SES operations manager Belinda Marchant said East Gippsland, Victoria’s north-east and the Great Ocean Road from its beginning to Apollo Bay were among the high-risk areas for landslides.

The Separation Creek landslide on Thursday. Credit:SES

“Where there has been a burnt-out area, we’ve lost trees and vegetation that holds the soil together,” she said.

“Once you get some rainfall on that area, it then creates a heavy soil and there’s a greater chance of that soil becoming a landslide.”

Ms Marchant said the Grampians area was also prone to landslides that could dislodge massive boulders. The 2011 floods resulted in more than 190 landslides in the Grampians region.

“We had private properties impacted with boulders at their backdoors,” Ms Marchant said.“We’re talking boulders the size of a van.”

A landslide in Corryong this year.Credit:SES

She said some landslides had stretched up to three kilometres in the Grampians.

In 2016 there were more than 180 landslides on the Great Ocean Road after bushfires tore through Wye River.

There have been many landslides over the years on the popular tourist route, although road authorities have worked to mitigate the risk, including using drones to monitor erosion.

By Thursday morning there were three small landslides that required SES assistance, including two on the Surf Coast and another at Tallangatta near the NSW border.

One of the landslides, at Separation Creek, blocked the Great Ocean Road on Thursday morning.

Heavy rain overnight to Thursday morning left 10 homes surrounded by water at Allansford near Warrnambool, which received 56 millimetres of rain. Falls reached up to 68 millimetres in the state’s north-east.

Melbourne was set to pass the 648-millimetre yearly average on Thursday amid showers and thunderstorms in the afternoon.

The north-east of the state remained under flood watch. There were damaging wind gusts of up to 100km/h possible about the eastern Alpine areas on Thursday.

The SES has urged drivers to avoid flood waters, warning it takes only 15 centimetres of water to float a car.

Tourism operators have encouraged Melburnians to explore the state, including less popular areas, once they are allowed to travel more than five kilometres from home.

But that has raised concerns many people will be travelling on unfamiliar roads that have default speeds of 100 km/h.

The Transport Accident Commission head of road safety, Samantha Cockfield, said roads would get busier when restrictions eased and Melburnians were allowed to travel.

"For a lot of people, it will be their first road trip in months and they may be driving on unfamiliar roads and at higher speeds for the first time in a long time," Ms Cockfield said.

"Our message is to slow down and drive to the conditions. Plan your journey well in advance, look out for each other and make safe choices."

Bureau of Meteorology senior forecaster Tom Delamotte said the start of next week would probably be quite dry before the rain returned.

“There is another cold front to move through Friday or Saturday next week,” he said. “That could potentially have some widespread rainfall associated with it.”

With Rachael Dexter

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