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1931 Hawkes Bay Earthquake - Napier Post Office | by Archives New Zealand
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1931 Hawkes Bay Earthquake - Napier Post Office

To mark the 85th anniversary of New Zealand’s deadliest natural disaster, Archives New Zealand will be sharing a number of records via their social media channels this week.


The 1931 Hawke's Bay earthquake, also known as the Napier earthquake, occurred in New Zealand at 10:47 am on Tuesday 3 February 1931, killing 256 and devastating the Hawke's Bay region. It remains New Zealand's deadliest natural disaster. Centred 15 km north of Napier, it lasted for two and a half minutes and measured magnitude 7.8. There were 525 aftershocks recorded in the following two weeks. The main shock could be felt in much of the southern half of the North Island. Nearly all buildings in the central areas of Napier and Hastings were levelled.


The local landscape changed dramatically, with the coastal areas around Napier being lifted by around two metres. The most noticeable land change was the uplifting of some 40 km² of sea-bed to become dry land. This included Ahuriri Lagoon, which was lifted more than 2.7 metres and resulted in draining 2230 hectares of the lagoon. Today, this area is the location of Hawkes Bay Airport, housing and industrial developments and farmland. The death toll might have been much higher had the Royal Navy ship HMS Veronica not been in port at the time. Within minutes of the shock the Veronica had sent radio messages asking for help. The sailors joined survivors to fight the fires, rescue trapped people and help give them medical treatment. The Veronica's radio was used to transmit news of the disaster to the outside world and to seek assistance. The crew from two cargo ships, the Northumberland and Taranaki, also joined the rescue works, while two cruisers, HMS Diomede and HMS Dunedin, were dispatched from Auckland that afternoon with food, tents, medicine, blankets, and a team of doctors and nurses. The cruisers sailed at high speed overnight, arrived on 4 February and provided valuable assistance in all areas until their departure on 11 February.


The earthquake prompted a thorough review of New Zealand building codes, which were found to be totally inadequate. Many buildings built during the 1930s and 1940s are heavily reinforced, although more recent research has developed other strengthening techniques. To this day there are few buildings in Hawke's Bay taller than five stories, and as most of Napier's rebuilding took place in the 1930s when Art Deco was fashionable, Napier architecture is regarded today as being one of the finest collections of Art Deco in the world. Hastings was also rebuilt with many Art Deco and Spanish Mission style buildings.


Archives New Zealand hold a number of records relating to the disaster from a range of agencies. A quick search for ‘Hawkes Bay Disaster’ on the Archives New Zealand finding aid Archway brings up files created by the Treasury Department; Army Department; Land Information New Zealand and the Governor series just to name a few. Researchers will notice that new functionality has been added to Archway. You can now send enquiries about records directly through Archway using the new ‘Enquire About This Item’ field. This field is located on the record information page, next to the ‘Arrange To View This Item’ field


The image of Napier Post Office was transferred to Archives New Zealand by New Zealand Post and are originally from the holdings of Post Office Museum and Archives.


Reference: AAME 8106 W5603 97 1/N/20


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Uploaded on January 28, 2016