Farmers forced to swim for their lives

PIERS FULLER
Last updated 05:00 13/07/2013
Sam Moore
LOREN DOUGAN/Fairfax NZ

IN DEEP: Farm worker Sam Moore and Darren Walton, stock manager for Manawa Station, were caught by a flash flood which swept their vehicles away. The Whareama River overflowed its banks north of Tinui and flooded farmland, catching four men by surprise.

Masterton-Castlepoint Road
UP TO THE AXLES: Flooding on the Masterton-Castlepoint Road.

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Farmers who braved horrendous weather to save sheep were left swimming for their lives after a flash flood in eastern Wairarapa swept their vehicles away.

Torrential rain caused the Whareama River to overflow its banks north of Tinui and inundate farmland, catching out the men as they attempted to move stock to safety on Thursday night.

George Williams of Grassendale Station was part of the group on Manawa Station, owned by his neighbour David Dalziell, who set out to move a mob of sheep about 9pm when the waters rose and left them swimming for it.

"The element of surprise is what really caught us," Mr Williams said.

"It was like, ‘Shit, this is happening quickly'."

Mr Williams, Mr Dalziell's brother John, and stock manager Darren Walton were crossing the paddock on a quad bike and a side-by-side utility vehicle (UTV) and were nearing higher ground when the water began rising quickly.

The men were just one last ditch from safety when the water turned into a torrent and the quad bike carrying two men tipped over.

They swam for the UTV, which was sledging along the ditch due to the force of the water.

The vehicle became stuck and the men climbed on top of its roof as the water rose around them.

It was dark, but they had headlamps on and they could see the fence and a 4WD on the farm track with its lights on not far away.

Mr Williams removed his wet-weather gear, dived from the top of the UTV, and swam around four metres to the other side of the ditch with a rope, where he was able to stand up in water around chest deep.

The other two men then swam across holding the rope. From there they were able to make it to the fence and over to the Hilux double cab.

But the drama was not over, as the 4WD had to drive through water coming up over its lights and into the cab.

After they made it to higher ground, they left the vehicle and walked about a kilometre to the farmhouse to dry off.

Meanwhile, another nearby farm worker, Sam Moore, found himself in a similar predicament when the quad bike he was on stalled in slow-moving water, forcing him to swim to safety.

Mr Williams said it all happened very quickly and they only realised afterwards how dangerous it was.

"If one of us had got caught under that side-by-side as it was rolling down that creek, it could have all gone pear-shaped."

Farm owner Mr Dalziell initially thought he had lost up to 800 sheep, but nearly all were discovered safe and sound in the morning.

Nevertheless, he had lost some stock, but it was too early to tell how many.

Mr Dalziell said the flooding had damaged his property and the rainfall levels were the highest he had seen since 2004 and the third biggest flood they had ever experienced.

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- The Dominion Post

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