Hawke's Bay earthquake 1931


Sydney Charles Smith, Ruins of St Paul's Presbyterian church, Napier, after the 1931 earthquake, 1931, Black and white original negative, Photographic Archive, Alexander Turnbull Library, Reference: 1/2-048340-G

Hawke's Bay earthquake 1931

The 1931 Hawke's Bay earthquake, measuring 7.8 on the Richter scale, was New Zealand's deadliest natural disaster. More than 250 people were killed, and the city centres of Napier and Hastings badly destroyed.

The earthquake struck at 10.47am on 3 February (the hands on the clock of the band rotunda in Napier froze at this time). The ground heaved upwards and swayed and then, 30 seconds later, there was a downward movement and violent shaking. In total, the quake lasted for two and a half minutes.

Most deaths in the quake occurred in the city centres, as buildings collapsed, trapping people, or as people who fled outside were hit by pieces of falling stonework. In Napier the newly built Nurses' Home collapsed, killing 12 people; 17 people died in Roach's department store in Hastings; and 15 people died in the Park Islands Old Men's Home near Taradale.

Minutes after the quake finished fires broke out in Napier – these started in three chemist shops, where a gas jet was kept burning to melt the wax used to seal prescriptions. The fires burnt for 36 hours, destroying nearly 11 blocks of the central city before dying out. Fires also began in Hastings, but were more quickly put out.

The navy ship HMS Veronica was docked in Napier harbour when the quake hit; the ship radioed Auckland for help, and sailors went into the city to join the rescue effort. Help quickly arrived from Auckland, with two navy ships carrying extra men, doctors and nurses from Auckland Hospital, and supplies.

Following the destruction of the quake, a major project to rebuild Napier took place. The rebuilding was carefully planned, and the new town centre had many improvements, including some of New Zealand's first underground power and telephone lines. Guidelines were created to ensure that new buildings were safer; many were designed in the fashionable art deco style. Today, Napier's art deco buildings have helped make the city a tourist attraction.

More images

You can see many images from the Hawke's Bay earthquake in our collections. Try searching for "Hawke's Bay earthquake" or "earthquake 1931" on the National Library Beta.

National Library Beta

Take a closer look at this image

We have put a group of photographs from the Turnbull collections showing the damage caused by the quake on our Flickr page

Hawke's Bay earthquake photos – National Library on Flickr

More reading

The 1931 Hawke's Bay earthquake – Te Ara website

Permission of the National Library of New Zealand Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa must be obtained before any reuse of this image.

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