Probe into ewes flooding deaths

An inquiry into the drowning of 95 pregnant ewes belonging to the Thames Jockey Club during last week's flooding is being held by the Ministry for Primary Industries.

The ewes were being held on the club's grounds and had nowhere to go to escape the torrent of water that rushed down the valley from heavy rainfall swelling the nearby Kauaeranga River.

The rush of water swept over the grounds with such a force that sheep were found in a nearby property.

Thames Jockey Club executive Jim McConnell said the club is distraught by the loss of stock.

"Seems to us is that this torrent of water went through and must've lifted them straight up and over, and they were gone," McConnell said.

"You could tell by the ferocity of the water, that none of them got caught up in our fences or anything.

"We're as distraught as anybody about it, it's a disaster as far we're concerned because it is part of our income stream," he said.

Former club president Brian Hare said they hadn't expected the huge volume of water coming out of the hills behind Thames.

"It's just one of those things that catch you out, the last thing you want is to lose your stock.

"I keep an eye the Waikato Regional Council rainfall and river levels and there was nothing on there late Tuesday night, Tuesday afternoon, to say there was going to be a problem."

Resident Kevin Price, who is a former member of the Thames Jockey Club, believes more should have been done to put the sheep out of harm's way. "With the weather warning, alarm bells should have been ringing, the priority is to move the sheep. They're fully aware that it is flood-prone land, they need to move the sheep to higher ground."

He is concerned about the lack of action taken by the club.

"One of the committee members told Jim McConnell at 5pm of a weather warning broadcast over the radio with 200mm rainfall expected in the area. No-one went down and opened the gate," Price said.

The high winds of that morning also played a part in drowning the sheep.

"The rain didn't actually start until towards midnight, there was wind more than anything else," McConnell said.

"I wouldn't ask anybody at 4 o'clock in the morning or 3 o'clock in the morning to go down, with winds at 125 [kmh]. I wouldn't have gone out.

"I would not have instructed anyone else to go because we would've had a loss of life as well as loss of stock."

But Price referred to an incident in the July 2008 flood when four people managed to save all but four of the jockey club's lambs.

The Ministry for Primary Industries confirmed that it would conduct an investigation.

Waikato Times