LEXTON residents say they will be helpless if a major disaster occurs in the town, with a lack of mobile phone coverage still plaguing the region.
The lack of phone reception was brought into sharp focus on Friday after a crash between a school bus and a tractor on the Sunraysia Highway.
While 13 people were taken to hospital, including one who was airlifted to the Royal Melbourne Hospital in a serious condition, locals now fear that should a disaster like a fire befall the town this summer, they will have no way of knowing what to do should they lose power.
Earlier this year, the Federal Government promised Lexton residents that an Optus tower would be built nearby, securing full phone coverage by "quarter two (end of June), 2019".
It is now nine months after that initial promise. At Friday's scene in the centre of the township, parents were trying to contact their children and children were trying to reach their parents. However, along with the emergency services and others on the scene, they were unable to get reliable service.
Those with Telstra mobile phones had no coverage whatsoever, while Optus customers had one bar of intermittent coverage throughout the unfolding drama.
Numerous emergency services took to calling for assistance from the general store landline.
Lexton resident Lisa Bassford said the whole town was concerned about the lack of coverage.
"We've got Rainbow Serpent coming up and every year there's a promise (of phone coverage), but we still haven't seen anything," she said.
"It really brought it home the other day. My partner was helping out and we had kids walking around all over the place, in shock, and all they were trying to do was get phone coverage.
"The major concern though is if there is a fire and we lose power. We don't have any way of knowing what's going on or even when the electricity will be turned on again."
Ricky Wright was one of the first people on the scene of Friday's crash.
"Here we had disabled children out of the bus trying to call their parents," he said.
"As I'm walking down the road it was as though they were coming out like a bee swarm. They had no idea what to do. They were crying. They were in shock.
"We had the driver and front seat passenger trapped, we even tried to get the front windows open, we had a young girl going in and out of consciousness, so we couldn't move her."
Mr Wright said the town frequently suffered power outages in summer, so much so residents often received compensation cheques from power companies.
"There was a fire several years ago and we had to rely on the wifi at the fire station to get any information out.
"I've got a young fella who lives nearby who's an IT man and he's had to put two 4G aerials in, that comes at a cost of about $10,000, not everyone can afford that.
"It's crazy, I'm trying to get a business started from home. I can't get it operating until I have service. It's bizarre in this day and age."
Lexton-based Leading Senior Constable Brett Williams, who was on the scene on Friday, said it was a constant source of frustration for the township. He said while police were able to make contact with each other through two-way radio, what could be conveyed, was limited.
"There's no (mobile) service from any of the providers," Leading Senior Constable Williams said.
"Society is based on communications, people want to know what's happening in real time.
"We were able to relay information via our radio, but it takes time and you can only have one person on it at a time. If multiple people were trying to get information out, you have to wait."
Inspector Dan Davison said the Rainbow Serpent festival over the Australia Day long weekend was an event where communications continued to be an issue.
"Every year we flag our concern that the risk of the lack of communication presents," he said. "The organisers do what they can and they do provide Telstra infrastructure which certainly assists emergency services.
"But communications for 20,000 people continues to be a concern."
Lexton has been listed under the Federal Government's $220 million Mobile Black Spot Program with Optus the responsible telco for delivering new towers to the area.
Telstra, which boasts it has 99.5 per cent coverage across the population of Australia, said it was Optus who had the permit to build infrastructure near Lexton.
That infrastructure was flagged in February this year as part of the Federal Government's $220 million mobile black spot program, and the state government has also contributed to 194 towers in Victoria, of which 127 have been built.
An Optus spokesperson said it was committed to securing reliable coverage for the town.
"Optus recognises the importance of mobile coverage for safety in regional Australia and we are committed to providing communities across Australia with improved mobile coverage, including through our investments in the Federal and State Governments Mobile Black Spot Program," a spokesperson said.
"Optus is currently in negotiation with the local council regarding approval for the Lexton site, and we will move to construction as soon as all agreements are in place."
State Minister for Regional Development Jaclyn Symes said in February the towers would provide "reliable coverage".
"These are two of six new towers to provide communities in the Pyrenees region with the coverage they need - with towers already up and running in Landsborough, Landsborough West, Moonambel and Ampitheatre," she said.
Acting Senior Sergeant Stuart Gale, who also attended the scene, said at this stage no charges had been laid with investigations ongoing. He asked for any witnesses to Friday's crash who have not yet spoken to police to come forward.
Contact Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000.
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