84 years on since NZ's deadliest earthquake disaster

By Aroha Treacher
  • North Island: East Coast

84 ago today, the Napier Earthquake struck, changing the landscape of Hawkes-Bay forever.

A moment's silence is observed as the town bell rings out.  At the time of the earthquake, Valda Colwill was just 15. She is due to celebrate her 100th birthday this year.

I thought of the time when I was lying in the middle of the doorway with all materials around me and in the grand hotel shedding all its bricks all around us and listening to the screams of others,” says Colwill.

The earthquake struck at 10.47am, 15km north of Napier, killing 256 people.  Even with the recent Christchurch earthquakes, it remains New Zealand's deadliest earthquake disaster.

The earthquake had a magnitude of 7.8, leaving devastation in its wake.  Respected leader Jerry Hapuku says Māori played an important role in collecting the dead and lifting the tapu, including his very own uncles.

“They collected all the dead bodies that lay in the streets.  Because the hospital was destroyed they lay there for a long time.  They had to identify who was who, European, Māori, everyone.  My heart bleeds when I think of them,” says Hapuku.

This is just one of the many individual stories that were shared by those who are no longer with us.  Shared memories to preserve for the next generation.

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