This day 82 years ago at 10.46 in the morning occurred what was in terms of loss of life the biggest disaster ever to occur on New Zealand soil whilst it has been inhabited by humankind. Although it is known as the Napier or Hawkes Bay Earthquake it actually affected much of the Country. The shock brought down buildings between Gisborne and Waipawa. It toppled chimneys from Taupo to Wellington.
For most of the Hawkes Bay residents the disaster is something remembered at the memorial service held on Art Deco Weekend and also in the very fabric of the area's culture and physical rebuilding. For those in Christchurch the earthquakes of 22 February 2011 and 4 September 2010 and the 11,000 (yes, 11, 000!) smaller earthquakes experienced since the first one is a much greater disaster.
The impact of the HB Quake can be judged from the letters, diaries, memoirs and photographs of rescuers who desparately worked to free victims from wreckage before the town was consumed by fire, of nurses and doctors who tended the injured in makeshift hospitals and the refugees who walked down broken roads with what they could carry from their salvagable belongings.
The wooden buildings of central Napier largely escaped the earthquake only to be destroyed by the fire that raged through the business district of the town an hour or so after the quake.
The official death toll was 256 with, despite outstanding efforts, two people unaccounted for. Over 400 were hospitalised with serious injuries. At least 2500 received minor injuries although this was never fully evaluated because many people with minor injuries never bothered to report them to the authorities.
The cost was not just death and injury nor was it just physical destruction of property. It threatened an already depressed economy - the second summer of depression - with complete ruin. News of the calamity even depressed prices on the London Stock Exchange.
The following are a few of the photos that appear on the Napier Government website. I will post more about the earthquake over the next weeks particularly in relation to the land changes that took place. The Wikepedia web entry is informative as is The Encyclopedia of New Zealand.