25 May 2021

Araluen Road residents still landlocked two weeks after major landslide

| Hannah Sparks
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Araluen Road landslide

A landslide caused by bushfires and floods blocks Araluen Road between Moruya and Braidwood. Photo: Eurobodalla Shire Council.

Residents on a regional road between Braidwood and Moruya, in southeast NSW, remain landlocked two weeks after a major landslide caused by bushfires and heavy rain.

It was the second landslide in 12 months on Araluen Road, in Deua National Park, home to about 70 properties.

While work is underway to improve the detour around the first landslide at Knowles Creek, on the Moruya side, Eurobodalla Shire Council said the road at the site of the second landslide at Merricumbene, on the Braidwood side, will be closed for the “foreseeable future”.

This is due to a “major slip failure” discovered above the landslide, said council.

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“Drone footage shows a large movement of material on the mountain slope downwards towards the road. Signage is in place warning people to stay out of the area,” said a council statement.

This means residents living west of the Merricumbene slip have no direct access to Moruya, only to Araluen and Braidwood, and residents east of the Merricumbene slip have no direct access to Araluen or Braidwood, only to Moruya.

Council said finding alternate access will be challenging, however solutions are being explored.

“Staff will meet with residents in June to discuss the road issues,” said the statement.

Business owners and residents in tears

Norman Van Den Broek owns Araluen Hotel and he had to reduce the pub’s opening hours from seven days to five days per week, and reduce staff hours, since the landslides.

He relies on the four-wheel drive, cycle and motorcycle clubs that frequent the road between Braidwood and the NSW South Coast.

“It’s been devastating,” he said.

Major land slip above Araluen Road at Merricumbene

Drone footage shows a major slip failure above the existing landslide on Araluen Road at Merricumbene, which is closing the road at that point for the foreseeable future. Photo: Eurobodalla Shire Council.

It’s been seven months since the first landslide and Mr Van Den Broek doesn’t understand why it still hasn’t been cleared.

He said it took less time for Essential Energy workers, who stayed at his hotel, to clear the road after the 2019-2020 Black Summer bushfires.

“Why can’t council go in with a digger and clear the landslides?” he asked. “I’ve even offered to do it with my machinery for free, but council said no.

“If we had an emergency here or, heaven forbid, someone was between the landslide and here, you’d have to chopper people in or out. It’s a wonder something hasn’t happened.”

However, a council spokesperson told Region Media: “Even if you could get machinery in there safely, removing the landslide debris from the road would likely bring down more material.”

For people who live between the landslides, the only way in and out is via unmarked and difficult to navigate fire trails at Knowles Creek.

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Dr Adrian Webster and his wife, Rebekah Bowman, a midwife, have been lucky to gain access to a private detour on a neighbour’s property, but even that is muddy and far from ideal.

He said his neighbour, who is aged in her 70s, is having to use the detour to visit her husband in hospital in Moruya, while his other neighbour, who looks after her husband with dementia, can’t access respite care as the services won’t use the detour.

The detour is now also being used by logging trucks, which don’t leave much room for cars to pass, according to Dr Webster.

He said a neighbour burst into tears in the supermarket when asked about the situation at Araluen Road.

Mr Van Den Broek also fought back tears as he recalled the challenges he’s faced with the bushfires and now landslides.

Council said Eurobodalla’s recovery service would head out to meet residents of Araluen Road this week.

“While some residents are already receiving support from case managers, and council is assisting individuals wherever possible, this is an opportunity to check in to find out what other practical help is needed at this time,” said the council statement.

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