Heavy rainfall has caused chaos with dozens of people needing to be rescued from their submerged vehicles on the Hume Freeway.
Heavy rainfall caused flooding Thursday morning with the Wangaratta region hit hardest.
A Victoria Police helicopter was needed to winch people from the top of their cars on the northbound lanes of the freeway, north of Wangaratta, with about 100 to 150 vehicles stuck in floodwater.
SES crews also used boats and ropes to take people to safe ground, while others used their own boats to rescue people.
Wire rope safety barriers made the rescues more difficult, with the vehicles essentially trapped in the freeway between the barriers. Roads in and out of Wangaratta were closed and surrounding areas were also inaccessible due to the water.
A large stretch of land surrounding Wangaratta was turned into floodplains.
Tanya Bailey, who was travelling from Wangaratta to Wodonga when her vehicle became stuck, was surprised how quickly the water rose.
“It came in quick as,” she said. “It’s surprising how many times you think ‘those dickheads, why are they driving in floodwater’, but it wasn’t like that at all. It was just there all of the sudden.”
Cars that broke down at the northern part of the floodwater prevented vehicles at the rear from passing through.
Albury’s Dirk Hancock got stuck while towing his boat. He started it up and managed to take four people to safety, before taking his black Labrador, Jimmy, to dry land.
“The water just kept coming up higher and higher,” he said. “I took the boat off and picked people up.”
An elderly couple had a lucky escape after their car became submerged to only a few centimetres below the roof. Some cars had tried to turn around and head south in the northbound lanes and became stuck.
Some vehicles were destroyed by the water while some larger vehicles and trucks were still able to travel through the water to safety.
Chris Moylan was in a Vinnies truck which became stuck. He had to be dragged out by SES volunteers.
“We got onto the Hume Freeway and the water just came up,” he said.
He had been transporting clothes for the charity and was unsure what would happen with the donations and the truck.
EMERGENCY service workers had rescued more than 150 people from flooding on the Hume Freeway by Thursday afternoon.
An estimated 100 to 150 vehicles became stuck in the floodwater, with many left abandoned and still underwater late on Thursday.
SES volunteers responded to more than 130 calls for assistance after the rainfall led to flash flooding.
Incident controller Brendan Corboy said calls for help had been received in the greater Wangaratta, Myrtleford and Beechworth areas.
The Bureau of Meteorology had forecast further heavy rainfall on Thursday and issued flash flood warnings for Wangaratta, Peechelba, Moyhu, Tarrawingee, Everton, Springhurst, Chiltern and Beechworth.
Flood watches were also in place in the Ovens and King and Upper Goulburn catchments, and Seven Creek and Castle Creek.
Rob Maher, who was winched to safety by a police helicopter, was concerned that vehicles had been told by VicRoads the Hume was right to drive on only moments before the flooding.
But he praised the work of the emergency crews who bought the situation under control.
Access to Wangaratta had been cut off by the flooding, which closed roads to and from the city.
Mr Corboy urged drivers to avoid affected areas and remain aware of the weather.
“Flash flooding can occur quickly due to heavy rainfall,” he said.
“Never walk, ride or drive through flood water.”
The rainfall was predicted to ease by Friday and clear on Saturday.
Two bridges were washed away in the region.
The bridges, on Kays Road at Tarrawingee and Farmers Road at Everton Upper were swept away by flash flooding.
About a dozen council roads were closed in the region with further impacts on other roads in the North East.
The damage caused by the rain and flooding will be assessed over the next week.
Wangaratta Council received 30 reports of damage and flooding by Thursday afternoon,and about 60 phone calls an hour from people seeking emergency contact numbers and road closure information.
Council also set up a relief centre at the HP Barr Reserve at the request of Victoria Police to assist anyone affected by the flash flooding.
Rural City of Wangaratta Chief Executive Officer Brendan McGrath said the full damage would not be known for days.
“Once the waters recede council will be able to properly assess the damage to roads, culverts and other infrastructure,” he said.