TEAM MEMBER STORIES – KATRINA PERKINS
When Katrina Perkins dons her Active Tree Services uniform these days, it elicits an additional sense of pride.
Not only does it represent the company she works for, it’s a nod to the co-workers who helped restore power to her community after the Mt Dandenong storms earlier this year.
Katrina is the Operations Support Manager for Active Victoria, handling the administration for both the Vic Councils and Ausnet contract.
In total she has been with Active for two years in a team she loves and a role she describes as ‘highly rewarding’.
As much as she handles the day-to-day of business operations, Katrina never expected to gain such a personal insight into the emergency work that Active undertakes as she has since early June.
“Katrina’s son Will (who is 6ft tall), showing the true extent of the storm damage.”
Katrina lives in Kalorama, a community that has been described as ‘ground zero’ of a major storm that ripped through the Mt Dandenong region on the night of June 9.
In total it left 160,000 homes without power, uprooting countless trees, damaging over 400 homes, and leaving a community to count the cost.
Describing the experience as ‘terrifying’, Katrina notes she has never been through a storm like it.
“The wind was roaring, it sounded like a jet plane and we could hear things falling all around,” she notes.
“But we had no idea just how bad it was until the next day.”
After a night of very little sleep, Katrina and her husband emerged the following morning to find trees down in their yard.
Venturing a little further, they began to take in the full extent of what had occurred. Fallen trees littered the landscape, neighbours’ homes had been damaged and road access had been cut.
The mobile phone network was intermittent and their whole community was without power.
But the storm wasn’t quite done yet.
As the wind picked up again, a tree leaned perilously over Katrina’s son’s bedroom. The sound of cracking branches continued to punctuate the howl of the gale.
“We could hear stuff cracking then these enormous bangs and the trees continued to fall,” she recalls.
“It’s one of the scariest things I’ve ever experienced because we couldn’t get out.”
About mid-morning, Katrina was keeping a watchful eye on all that was unfolding when she saw five trees fall like dominoes, landing in the middle of her neighbour’s house.
“I screamed to my husband, ‘we need to see if they’re OK’, so we raced out and were so relieved to see them emerging from each end of the house.
“It was a miracle. Their house was destroyed but they were uninjured. At that point a sense of panic began to creep in.”
Katrina hastily arranged for her children to stay with her brother elsewhere. They walked the teens to a place where her brother could meet them.
All around their community, homes had randomly been destroyed.
In the back of her mind, Katrina also knew the chaos unfolding before her would also see Active Tree Services hard at work.
“Part of me was thinking this is a nightmare, but then the other was thinking they really need me at work.”
Back at Active’s Bayswater depot, the calls were coming thick and fast, with crews working 16-hour shifts to clear upended trees and help restore electricity to the power network.
Ultimately, the recovery effort would be supported by reinforcements, with crews brought in from the northern region, and even New South Wales to assist.
But as Active and Ausnet worked around the clock, Katrina’s community were two weeks without power.
She describes the days that followed as incredibly eerie. Nights were cold, silent and pitch black, save for the intermittent crack and crash of toppling trees.
Concerned about the tree overhanging their home, Katrina and her husband brought it down themselves after seeking guidance from an operations manager at Active.
Once they were able to get out in their 4WD, Katrina returned to work as her community embarked on recovery.
A WhatsApp group kept neighbours in touch, with the residents that remained watching over vacant properties to ward off any looting.
Katrina notes the experience was harrowing but also instilled a sense of pride. She not only witnessed the work Active was doing but saw the difference it made to her community.
“It brought home what my colleagues do in the field,” she reflects.
“They were working 16 hours a day, day after day so we could get power back on. They were away from their families and giving up their own lives so ours could get back to normal.”
Katrina also notes the support provided by the team at Active was ‘incredible’.
When she expressed concern a damaged tree might fall on her house, two managers came out to assess it for her.
She remains incredibly grateful for that support and also the fact her home escaped damage. But the event hasn’t been without lasting impacts.
Katrina and her husband only recently cleared all the debris from the property, some neighbours are yet to return, and the sound of chainsaws still rings out daily in her area.
It’s a reminder of the power of nature but also offers a new appreciation of the critical work her colleagues continue to do.