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.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.
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.
View the movie:
The Art Deco Trust has daily showings of the movie “The Day That Changed the Bay” from 9:00am until 4:30pm. Learn about the devastating earthquake that destroyed the city. New Zealand's worst natural disaster is captured on a short film documenting the journey through the immediate aftermath of the earthquake and describes the vigour, passion and determination that resulted in the city being rebuilt in 22 months.
To view the movie, simply pop into the store at any time during the day and see the Walks and Tours desk.
The following book can be purchased from the Art Deco Trust: “The Hawke’s Bay Earthquake” by the late Robert McGregor (Art Deco Trust, 1998). If you would like to purchase this book click here.