Anniversary Of Napier NZ Earthquake 3 February 1931

On The Environment And New Zealand Earthquakes

The 1931 Napier Earthquake was a major catastrophic event in New Zealand’s history, as devastating as the Christchurch Earthquake of 2010 which also claimed many lives and destroyed the city centre.

The Napier-Hastings quake of magnitude 7.9 came just two years after the 7.8 magnitude quake of 1929, which struck in Murchiston on the 16th June 1929 in the South Island, and which killed seventeen people. The human toll was far greater in the Napier quake, with 256 people reported dead.

1929 was a difficult year in many respects, as 1929 was the year of the famous Wall Street stock market crash. The planets reflect the dubiuos nature of things here on Earth around this time.

By 1931, the world economy was still at a low ebb, with many people out of work and having little to eat.  This is the period known as ‘The Great Depression’, when people would eat sprouting potatoes, old cabbage, and even risk their health in their desperation for fresh greens by trying to eat rhubarb greens, which, of course, are very poisonous.  I have heard first hand of a family who gave the rhubarb greens a shot, since they had eaten all their silver beet from the garden.  As was to be expected, they very quickly developed stomach pains and had to call the doctor after eating the silver-beet look-alikes.  They were lucky to survive.

So the people of the Napier-Hastings-Wairoa-Gisborne region were already doing it very hard when the earthquake struck in 1931.Funny how some things thrive in difficult times, with new building projects being undertaken, and some businesses making a mint despite the economic challenges:

1931 is the year The Empire State Building in New York was dedicated.  Alas, 1931 proved to be an unauspicious year, as this building was destroyed in the ‘Nine-Eleven’ attacks just 70 years later.

On a more auspicious note – The earthquake of 1931 is also the reason that the city of Napier is now known as the Art Deco City Of The World.  A whole new city of new architecture and design was built in Napier following the quake.. The new buildings which were put up, after the old ones fell down in the quake, were all in the wonderful, visually pleasing and arty Art Deco style, which is certainly a boon for the city.  Thousands of tourists now flock into the city each year to enjoy the atmosphere of art deco Napier.

Yesterday was the 82nd anniversary of the Napier Earthquake.  This earthquake devastated the Hawkes Bay region of the North Island, and  killed 256 people overall in the towns of Napier, Hastings and Wairoa.

It is known as the ‘Napier Earthquake’, but Hastings and other towns were also badly affected. Brick buildings were especially vulnerable:  It was reported that all two storeyed buildings collapsed in Napier, and that all brick buildings fell down in Hastings.  The Napier Hospital was wrecked, and patients moved into tents on the racecourse.  Tents were also set up in Cornwall Park in Hastings, to house families whose homes had been ruined. Damage to buildings also occured in Woodville to the south of Hastings, Wanganui to the south-east, and Gisborne to the north of Napier-Hastings.

The main shock of the 1931 February 3rd earthquake was 7.8 magnitude on the Richter scale, and it struck at 10.17 AM.  Jolts continuedfor around two and a half minutes in Napier, and ‘Reader’s Digest New Zealand Yesterdays’ reports that 674 shocks were recorded until the end of May.  The main quake was felt  pretty much over all the North Island, parts of the South Island, and as far away as Sydney in Australia, where it damaged the city observatory’s seismograph.

The earthquake of Napier-Hastings had a remarkable affect on the landscape:  The land rose up by 1.8 metres in some parts, resulting in around 1500 square metres of land being added to the Napier region.  The Napier airport to the west of the city of Napier is built on what was formerly part of the Ahuriri Lagoon.  The Reader’s Digest tells of workmen in the Gisborne area, two weeks after the quake,  watching as around two metres of land silently, and without any land tremors, rose up out of the sea.

My Mother was only three years old at the time of the quake, but she has vivid memories of the family racing to the windows to make a quick exit, and watching from the garden to see the brick chimney on their school house at Eskdale topple down.


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