“The outline of the hill turned into a giant serpent as it heaved up and down. The shock wave swept across it, creating a monster crossing the skyline.” - NG Bailey
At 10:47am on 3 February 1931, a devastating earthquake struck Hawke’s Bay. In that moment it seemed the end of the world had come.
People were thrown off their feet; buildings shuddered and collapsed as the ground pitched violently. In central Napier, fires broke out within minutes and rushed through the city. Amidst the burning, falling buildings, the bright blue sky of a summer’s day was obscured by smoke and dust.
People could only watch as their home was destroyed around them. In desperation the injured screamed for help, others ran for the safety of the beach, or home to find their families.
In Hawke’s Bay, time from then on would always be divided into before and after the earthquake. The high number of casualties and the challenge of rehabilitation and reconstruction in the middle of the Depression tested the nation, the brunt of the burden borne by every person in Hawke’s Bay who strove to reclaim their home amid the trauma of extreme loss.
Objects and archives in the MTG collections are rich with the memory of the horror of that day, and of its aftermath. Visiting this exhibition is a must for those who seek to understand a place shaped by destruction on a scale unparalleled in New Zealand, of a story that has shaped a visible scar on Hawke’s Bay, and of the invisible scars - held in the memories of its places and people, still vivid over 80 years on.
The 'Survivors' Stories' film containing the personal accounts from Hana Cotter, Audrey McKelvie, Jim Clayton, and Lauris Edmond plays continuously throughout the day (note: this film has subtitles).
Supported by Hawke’s Bay Regional Council.
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