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‘It was just a feeling of panic’: The long terrifying moments an earthquake shook Victoria

It brought down brick walls along Chapel Street, Windsor. One bar reported losing a significant part of its wine cellar. But ultimately, thankfully, no human life was lost and serious injuries were avoided.

“Welcome to Melbourne. What else is going to happen?” said Con Houndalas, who runs coffee shop One Thirty Two along the trendy strip.

“It happened so quickly. First I felt the ripple effect, then I heard the noise, then I looked across and saw the bricks spitting out.”

Con Houndalas

He was outside on the footpath talking to customers when he felt his body vibrate. He looked across the road to see part of Betty’s Burgers crumbling.

“It happened so quickly. First I felt the ripple effect, then I heard the noise, then I looked across and saw the bricks spitting out.”

Tim Wiebusch, chief operations officer of Victoria’s State Emergency Service, said the current COVID-19 lockdowns likely prevented more serious injuries.

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“We were probably very fortunate that with the situation in Melbourne at the moment. There aren’t a lot of people out moving during the day,” he said.

“And so certainly it could have been a lot worse in Chapel Street today if it had been a busy Saturday morning.”

City of Melbourne officers swept on buildings in the council area, checking for any structural damage. At least one CBD office building was evacuated due to aftershock fears.

Workers who have chosen to come back to the office were evacuated from Collins Square in the Docklands precinct, with one saying the shaking was so strong they believed “a truck hit the building”.

The High Country town of Mansfield was relatively unscathed despite being close to the epicentre of the quake.

The High Country town of Mansfield was relatively unscathed despite being close to the epicentre of the quake. Credit:Paul Jeffers

Back in Victoria’s alps, at Kevington near the headwaters of the Goulburn River, the local pub’s memorabilia was violently removed from its walls. Frames were broken and glass shattered.

The pub, a local watering hole for the A1 gold mine’s workers, has survived a century of bushfires and flood and now an earthquake.

“It’s nothing that can’t be fixed,” says publican Wayne Poole. “It was pretty wild and I’m not sure what comes next? I suppose it’s a plague of locusts.”

Gerald in East Keilor initially thought it was his washing machine.

“I looked outside I could see the ground moving,” he said. “It was really terrifying – I actually wondered if a bomb had gone off.”

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In locked down Ballarat, Narelle thought she had vertigo, but it was the clothes horse shaking.

More than 100 Victorians requested assistance, about half of them from Melbourne suburbs, mostly for minor structural damage to chimneys and facades on buildings. While Chapel Street stores were rocked, so too Brunswick Street in Fitzroy.

Seismology Research Centre said the quake was centred at Licola North, near Woods Point. It was followed by six aftershocks – the first a magnitude 5.5 tremor at 9.40am, followed by a 4.0 tremor at 9.55am and 3.1 tremor at 10.15am.

Trevor Carstein, manager of the Licola Wilderness Village school camp at Licola, said he and his wife and two teenage sons “all sort of hit the panic button”.

“We didn’t know what was happening. It broke our bedroom window and kitchen window,” he said.

“The bathroom and bedroom ceilings cracked, mostly everything out of our cupboards fell out.”

At Mount Buller, spokeswoman for Buller Ski Lifts Rhylla Morgan said: “The whole mountain got a very solid shake” but there was no fear of avalanche. “We could feel it for a good 30 seconds, and then we felt the aftershock a bit later,” she said.

A pandemic. Violent protests and now an earthquake. Melbourne’s resilience has been pushed to the brink.

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But if believers see it as a message from above, know that even sacred spaces were not spared.

At Wangaratta, about 230 kilometres up the Hume Freeway from Melbourne, one of the crosses from St Patrick’s Church fell from the roof along with several ornaments. And the tiles at the rear of the 150-year-old Gothic Revival building have cracked.

Father Nathan Verallo says the Sandhurst diocese has closed the building to worshippers until a structural assessment is done.

He’s planning outdoors services at a location yet to be determined.

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