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Event timeline - 1900 to 1942

The period from 1900 to 1942 recorded several momentous calamities, peaking with the 1931 Napier earthquake (7.8 on the Richter scale) that took 256 lives. However other tragic events included the 1929 Murchison earthquake that killed 17 people.

Image of Murchison in 1929On a cold, foggy mid-winter morning of 17 June 1929 a 7.8 magnitude earthquake hit Murchison in the South Island. The shaking was felt as far afield as Auckland and Dunedin and caused widespread panic, alarm and damage.

In the tiny township of Murchision and surrounding districts, 17 people lost their lives in a quake described by one resident as accompanied by "the whole air vibrating with an inconceivable tumult of groanings" (in the left photo a Murchison hotel after serious sideways movement).

As people rushed outside, unable to stand on the heaving earth, chimneys fell, water tanks hurtled from their stands, hillsides were stripped of bush - whole slopes were seen to move forward, as the land slipped and crashed, blocking roads and rivers. An area of land almost 30 kilometres long and 80 kilometres wide was lifted 30 centimetres. Bridges were thrown out of alignment and became unusable, and there were heavy livestock losses. 


One morning in summer - Hawke's Bay Earthquake – 1931

At 10.48am on a hot summers Hawke's Bay day on 3 February 1931, Hawke's Bay was struck by 7.8 magnitude earthquake. First came a distinct upwards movement, then a violent and confusing swaying that increased in intensity. Then for almost half a minute, there was nothing. People breathed again, but then came the second shock, a down bump with violent swaying and rocking that continued until two and a half minutes had passed since the start of the first tremor. This violence was to claim 256 lives and be New Zealand's worst natural disaster in lives lost.

hastings heretaunga st 1931 2 webhastings heretaunga st 1931 web

The ferocity of this earthquake not only caused immense destruction and loss of life in Napier and Hastings, but also inflicted widespread damage across Northern and Southern areas of Hawke's Bay, devastating numerous farming communities and smaller towns. The earthquake itself was felt all over New Zealand except in Auckland. There was damage to buildings in Whanganui, Palmerston North, Wellington and even in Christchurch. Communication and transport services in Hawke's Bay were completely severed and military resources were mobilised by the Government of the time to assist in the rescue and recovery efforts across the region.

napier 1931 5 webFires broke out almost immediately in many of the damaged buildings and large parts of both Napier and Hastings suffered large conflagrations. There was large scale evacuations of injured and homeless people to neighbouring regions, and it took many years of expense and organised effort to clear the damaged areas, and start reconstruction. (on the left the Napier Post Office erupted in fire soon after the last tremors).

napier 1931 6 web[Some material sourced from "The Shaky Isles" by Anna Rogers published 2013]

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