Hawke's Bay earthquake memories revived

9:31 am on 17 September 2010

The Canterbury earthquake has revived the memories of those who survived the deadly Hawke's Bay earthquake of February 1931, in which 258 people were killed.

HMS Veronica had just tied up in the inner harbour of Napier on 3 February, 1931, when the earthquake struck at 10.47am.

Every year since then, the ship's bell is struck at the exact time of the earthquake, as a reminder of the devastation it caused.

In Napier, almost 11 blocks were destroyed by fires which lasted for 36 hours.

In Hastings about 200 buildings were destroyed. Hundreds of houses in both towns, as well as in Havelock North and Wairoa, were severely damaged.

The sea floor was lifted almost three metres, draining tidal flats and the Ahuriri lagoon where there's now an airport, farmland and a housing subdivision.

Hastings Mayor Lawrence Yule says the physical appearance of Napier and Hastings changed forever. Napier was almost completely rebuilt in art deco style and Hastings used Spanish Mission architecture.

A day never forgotten

George Lobban, who's now 94, says his memory of that sunny hot February day is crystal clear. He was in Hastings looking for a job and had just come out of a garage in Heretaunga St when the earthquake struck.

Seventeen people in Roach's department shop were killed and many were seriously injured.

Ronald Draper, who was nine, was sitting in a fire engine with his brother just outside the shop, as his father helped fight the blaze.

The memories are equally clear for Ethel Mansfield, who's now 96.

She was working at Rothman's tobacco factory near the port of Napier. It was morning teatime when the earthquake struck.