Everyone knows the basic story of the Hawke’s Bay earthquake. It hit at 10.47am on Feb 3, 1931 and was listed at 7.8 on the richter scale.
The official death toll is listed as 256. It’s unclear, however, if that should be the final number. Some victims were never found and some of those who died from their injuries may not have been counted among the final dead.
But alongside the well-known facts are snippets of information that have been forgotten over time.
Here are a few.
In just two-and-a-half minutes the earthquake moved sharply up and then just as sharply down. Much of Ahuriri lagoon was uplifted during the earthquake, exposing about 3000 hectares of seabed forming a land bridge between Napier and Taradale. The Hawke’s Bay airport is today on this land.
Many of those who died were not killed during the earthquake itself. Instead, fire swept through the damaged stores and buildings killing many trapped people before help could get to them.
HMS Veronica was in the harbour and during the earthquake was left nearly high and dry as the sea receded. But the sea swept back and the sailors scrambled ashore to help. She was able to contact two others, the Diomede and the Dunedin who rushed to Napier with food, medicine, tents, blankets and a team of doctors and nurses.
Prisoners from the Napier jail were working on Bluff Hill. Four of their number were buried in a landslide. They were able to dig two out. None of the prisoners took advantage of the situation and were locked up in the jail again.
More than 900 aftershocks were recorded and lasted until December that year.
Explosives were used to create a hole big enough for the first 54 burials.
While the official death toll is 256, there are actually 258 names on the memorial.
Some of the stories of individual deaths became known. Gwen Butler, aged 21, was working at the Griffiths shoe store in Hastings. She survived the original quake. Gwen and the other staff helped evacuate the store but when someone mentioned to her that the money was still in the till she went back inside. A large aftershock hit, collapsing the brick wall of the bank next door, which fell into the store killing Gwen. She is buried in the Havelock North cemetery.
Alfred Evers-Swindell’s name is on the list of the dead. If his name is familiar it's because he was the brother of Garry Owen Evers-Swindell - grandfather of the Olympic gold-medal-winning Ever-Swindell twins.
One boy, originally counted among the dead, was later taken off the list when it was discovered his body had already been in the morgue, which had collapsed during the quake.
More than half of the fatalities came from the collapse of just 15 buildings, like the Nurses Home on the hill, the Roaches store in Hastings and the Park Island Old men’s home.
Napier used to have trams. But after the quake the tracks were left twisted beyond recognition and were never restored.
And Napier’s now iconic Art Deco-look is a direct result of the rebuilding done after the earthquake.
We have one more tale to tell from the earthquake. An amazing story of survival which will be published this coming Saturday.