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The Guardian - AU
The Guardian - AU
Adeshola Ore

Flooding of Melbourne retirement village left second world war refugee with PTSD, inquiry hears

flooded street in Victoria
Stanislaw Korkliniewski, who has lived at the retirement village in Avondale Heights since 2018, said the flooding triggered memories of being displaced after fleeing war-torn Germany in the 1940s. Photograph: James Ross/EPA

An elderly man left homeless after Melbourne’s Maribyrnong flood last year says being displaced sparked memories of fleeing Germany during the second world war and caused him to become a “refugee for a second time”.

Two residents of Rivervue retirement village, where about 70 people were displaced and 47 homes inundated during last October’s floods, appeared before a Victorian parliamentary inquiry investigating the disaster on Thursday.

Stanislaw Korkliniewski, who has lived at the retirement village in Avondale Heights since 2018, said the flooding triggered memories of being displaced after fleeing war-torn Germany in the 1940s.

“The weight of depression, anxiety and panic attacks became my norm,” he told the inquiry.

“Now with medical care I know that the flooding of Rivervue means I have PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder].”

Fellow resident Colin Waters, who has lived at Rivervue with his wife since 2017, said he estimated his home was worth $1.3m prior to the flooding and now was “pretty much worthless”

“It’s built in a swamp,” he told the inquiry.

The Age last year revealed the former head of the Melbourne Water inquiry previously supported planning changes – approved by the state government in 2016 – that covered a portion of the retirement village that sits alongside Maribyrnong river.

The zoning amendment moved the one-in-100 year flood risk closer to the river, which resulted in homes being built on land previously considered unsuitable.

Waters told the inquiry that Melbourne Water’s “business as usual approach cannot be allowed to drag on”.

“Nobody can change God’s laws of physics. Further floods are guaranteed unless protection works are initiated,” he said.

Last Friday a review – commissioned by Melbourne Water into the flooding that affected more than 500 homes – found Rivervue remained a flood risk and that this could increase in the future as a result of climate change.

The review recommended Melbourne Water investigate how it came to be satisfied with the reduction of the flood levels and finished floor levels at the Rivervue retirement village under plans endorsed in 2009.

It also recommended improvements to forecasting and warning systems.

On Thursday, Korkliniewski said he received no emergency warnings on the day of the flood and recounted knocking on the doors of residents to alert them to the risk.

“Our haven was gone and we were left homeless,” he told the inquiry.

“It was the emotional trauma that cut deep. I saw faces filled with anguish, despair, people that lost everything.”

During the hearing, Korkliniewski also accused retirement village operator Tigcorp of under-insuring the site, leading some residents to pay large amounts of money for their own temporary accommodation.

The ABC previously reported Rivervue had a flood insurance limit of $5m, despite having more than $80m in assets. The operator reportedly said it would cover the shortfall for the “extensive reinstatement works” required in the village

Korkliniewski told the inquiry he had asked the retirement village to disclose the insurance policy over “many years” and did not receive it.

“If purchasing I knew what the value of the insurance was I would then say to myself, hold on, $5m against $84m in assets as of October 2022 does not make sense.”

The inquiry on Wednesday heard that many homes along the Maribyrnong river would become uninsurable in the coming years, with premiums in some areas already doubling.

Melbourne Water has confirmed a flood management plan for the retirement village is being developed.

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