Monday, February 03, 2014

Remembering the big disaster

83 years ago today, New Zealand had its first major earthquake in a populated area since European settlement. The Hawkes Bay Earthquake is still the deadliest New Zealand disaster.

The 7.9 earthquake stuck at 10:47am and killed 256 people. It levelled most of the buildings in central Napier and Hastings, and the fires that broke out immediately destroyed many of the Napier buildings that survived the earthquake. Some 40 square kilometres of seabed was lifted up to become dry land.

The disaster revealed the need for building codes to deal with earthquakes, and much was learned by studying the buildings that survived, as well as those that didn’t. When the area was rebuilt, it was done in the Art Deco style that was popular at the time, making it one of the world’s best and most complete showcases for that style.

The video above is a 1965 documentary on the earthquakes, using silent film that was almost certainly shot the day after the earthquakes. They also added some footage from the 1960s to show how the area recovered.

At the time the documentary was made, the disaster had only been three decades earlier, and so, many people remembered it vividly. Now, more than eight decades after the events, there are few witnesses still living, all of them elderly. This makes it especially important, I think, for the rest of us to remember events like the Hawkes Bay Earthquake. The Internet makes that easy.

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