The Water Corporation has admitted it “didn’t have a plan” to deal with the failure of an Elleker levee that residents say contributed to widespread flooding amid a severe communications breakdown in the aftermath of last month’s storm. Community criticism over the management of the man-made “plug” known as the Marbellup Brook levee was swirling ahead of a community meeting at Elleker Town Hall last Wednesday night. About 50 people packed the hall, many facing a lengthy and costly clean-up after water inundated their properties and left some homes only accessible by boat. For some, floodwaters had taken more than a week to subside after the June 20-21 storm, while others said water levels were still rising on their properties. Water Corporation, Department of Fire and Emergency Services and City of Albany representatives put themselves in the hot-seat, facing a barrage of questions from frustrated locals who say they had no warning of the flooding and no mobile phone coverage to call for help. “I know there is a lot of emotion in the room and there are some difficult questions that need to be asked,” City of Albany chief executive Andrew Sharpe said at the opening of the meeting. The burning question at the meeting was: how do we stop this from happening again? Many Elleker residents aired frustrations that little had been done since flooding in the area in 1963, 1986 and 1991. The Marbellup plug washed out in 1991 and was repaired, but not improved, they said. Resident Phil Harding questioned why the Water Corporation had not warned locals of the collapse of the plug which they said happened about 7.30am on Monday, June 21. “There is a massive, massive black hole in the communications around the collapse of that plug,” Mr Harding said. “The people that were flooded in their homes and had livestock down at a low level, we had no official warning at all. “It is a dam, it is not a plug as such, the dam collapsed with property and livestock below. “To not be warned in a very timely manner in an official way is again unacceptable.” Water Corporation Great Southern regional manager Adrian Stewart told the crowd they were advised of the plug breaking about 4pm on the Monday and they understood it broke at 11am. They started alerting the City of Albany and residents on Tuesday. But residents said they were already inundated. “Obviously we couldn’t do much while there was a significant amount of water running through that,” Mr Stewart said. “We mobilised our crews into the area on Wednesday morning to commence rebuilding the plug.” It was completely repaired by Friday. Mr Stewart said crews had not dealt with the levee bursting in 30 years. “I don’t think we had a good grasp on the length and breadth and the depth of the impact,” he said. “We didn’t have a process to deal with it, we didn’t have a plan to deal with it.” Mr Stewart said their current focus was on removing water pooled on properties before they could shift their attention to devising a long-term solution. They would also deploy a diesel pump to bring down water levels. “The plug at this stage has been put back in place to hold the water as we require it to do,” he said. “If we were to see an event the same as what we did and under the same conditions it would probably do the same thing — that is quite possible.” Residents said there had been significant water-management research by the Torbay Catchment Group since the past flooding events, but little support in implementing solutions. “We are hearing the same story now and the same event happening and the same answers to those same questions,” long-term resident Phil Melon said. They suggested that more needed to be done to prevent silting in waterways and clear drainage systems which could have contributed to the flooding. Department of Fire and Emergency Services Superintendent Wayne Green told the crowd there was “no chance” anyone could have prepared for the impact of the storm. “We are talking a very rapid event with minimal notice,” he said. “It was travelling quite fast, but then when it hit the Great Southern it had a southerly and a south-westerly influence that held it up. “That turned it into a very slow moving event, hence why we were getting such a volume of rain in that area without it moving on.” The rainfall — which reached up to 150mm in isolated areas such as Elleker — paired with more than 100km/h winds caused a level of destruction not anticipated by emergency services, Supt. Green said. This was after a “huge volume” of rain fell in March and May which had saturated soils, leaving rain nowhere to go once it hit. “For the Great Southern region — in particular Albany across to Walpole — we are talking 300-400mm of rain in that time of year,” he said. “Now that is 150-200 per cent above what we would normally get in that time of year.” Emergency services were deployed across the Great Southern with the region left shaken by the unexpectedly destructive storm front, including to Kendenup and Bremer Bay where homes were without power. Homes were flooded in Albany and the Denmark River burst its banks. For Elleker locals, road closures meant some residents were completely cut off from emergency services. Mr Green urged residents to develop emergency storm plans and remain connected to their neighbours in the event of another destructive storm. An Elleker grandmother said she was looking after her six grandchildren at the time of the flooding, while their parents were stuck in Albany due to the closure of both Lower Denmark Road and South Coast Highway. She said with no power to their phonelines and inadequate mobile coverage they “had no idea what was going on” as floodwaters rose. “We had no phone, there is no way of communicating with the outside world,” she said. “From our point of view we could not contact anybody to find out what had happened and we didn’t know how long it was going to go on or how bad it was. “I do appreciate the support but if we can’t ask for it we can’t get it.” City of Albany Mayor Dennis Wellington said lack of phone coverage was unacceptable and pledged to take up the need for better emergency coverage at a State and Federal level “as soon as possible”. Mr Wellington committed to holding another community meeting in October. “What we are about tonight is recovery — hearing your stories and what we can do to try and endeavour to make sure it doesn’t happen again,” he said.