A massive Richter 7.8 earthquake ravaged the
Hawke’s Bay region on 3 February 1931.
This horrific natural disaster is still classed as the most tragic disaster in New Zealand with 261 deaths, 162 of these were in Napier City. Fires subsequently engulfed the stricken areas, leaving only a few recently built reinforced concrete buildings standing. Although its wooden housing stock was relatively undamaged, Napier as a functioning town had ceased to exist. They began in chemists' shops where gas jets were in close proximity to flammable liquids. One hour after the earthquake, the fires were spreading rapidly. Fires also broke out at Ahuriri. In Napier, the water supply was lost and there was little that firemen could do. In Hastings, the water supply remained intact so the fires were contained.
The Royal New Zealand Navy played a significant role in the aftermath of the quake. HMS Veronica was moored at West Quay and immediately assisted the stricken people of Napier. HMS Dunedin and HMS Diomede left Auckland with medical supplies and personnel at 3.00pm that day and arrived in Napier at 8.30am on Wednesday.
People (afraid to enter their homes) camped in their gardens, on road-sides, at Nelson Park and on the Marine Parade Beach.
Interestingly the Napier area tilted upwards, a maximum of 7 feet (just over 2 metres), and 2230 hectares (5575 acres) were raised to sea level. Since then, apparently, the area has continued to creep up at the rate of 1 cm per year, so that it is now 60cms (or two feet) above sea level.
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