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Vietnamese recalls nightmare week after winter storm lashes Australia

By Thanh Tam   July 5, 2021 | 12:09 am PT
Vietnamese recalls nightmare week after winter storm lashes Australia
Snow falls at a farm in Sunny Corner, New South Wales, Australia June 10, 2021 in this picture obtained from a social media video. Photo by Sunny Corner Farm Sanctuary via Reuters.
Hoai Huong had to survive without power, internet and heating after a giant winter storm hit Melbourne last month.

Huong said her nightmare week, after living in Australia for four years, began on the evening of June 9, when a storm swept across the east of Melbourne City, accompanied by heavy rain and gusts of 60-100 kilometer per hour.

In just one night of the storm passing, more than 6,500 calls were made to the emergency helpline, 400 homes were damaged, more than 160,000 households were left without power for at least a week, and thousands of large and small trees fell. Repairing the damage is expected to last all year.

"At noon on June 10, the storm gradually dissipated, but the consequences it left behind are really tiring to deal with. I spent days living in a state of deprivation of all kinds while my husband said it was the worst storm he had experienced in 10 years," Huong recalled.

One of the most challenging things for Huong to deal with was the lack of electricity. With the grid down, she had to use a generator at home. But due to its limited capacity, it could serve no more than the living room and kitchen.

"There was no electricity, so cooking was limited. Before the storm, my family often ate toast and hot dairy-based products. But for a whole week, we had to rely on bread and cold milk," she revealed.

She added the family had to take advantage of daylight hours to complete essential tasks and typically went to bed early.

"Usually at 6 p.m., everyone had already gone to their rooms."

The storm passed through Australia as the nation entered winter, with nighttime temperatures in the east of Melbourne dropping to 0 degrees Celsius.

"The most painful thing was the lack of heating amid fluctuating temperatures of around 0-2 degrees Celsius at night. We had to use hot-water bottles to cope with the cold. Our sleep was much disturbed," she said.

Besides, on the evening of June 9, storm floods polluted domestic water sources, though clean water was provided to households for free.

Woolworths, Australia's largest supermarket, also offered customers a 50 percent discount on 20-liter water bottles.

"My family had to drive three kilometers from home to get water," she said.

A week without electricity also meant days without Internet. Her first son could not complete his schoolwork, while she had to drive about 10 kilometers from home to go online.

"At first, my family planned to evacuate to Sydney, but couldn't go because Melbourne was in lockdown due to the Covid-19 outbreak. No one was allowed to go more than five kilometers out of the city. A day after the storm cleared, a new loosened blockade order was imposed, allowing people to travel to within a 25 kilometer radius of the city," she said.

The electricity company gradually pushed back grid repairs from three days to three weeks.

"The announcement was a shock to the people living in the area because people need electricity for heating and cooking during winter. I already saw local media report about it after just 30 minutes of receiving the message. The surprise was that we got our electricity the next day instead of having to wait for another three weeks as announced," she said. "It's been a long time since I've felt tears of joy because of seemingly simple things."

Hoai Huong said the local government had asked the power company to compensate each person $1,500 per day if there is no early solution. This forced the utility company to send large military generators to the affected area after the storm, while waiting for problems from the national grid to be fixed.

Huong's nightmare finally came to an end after a week, although it took a lot more time to repair the storm damage in her area.

"On social media, many people shared food, lent generators, and did free laundry for affected people. Two weeks after the storm, the Red Cross and military still visited and asked if anyone needed help or lacked anything. These things make me feel really warm inside even though I live far from home," she shared.

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