1931 Hawkes bay earthquake Nearly all buildings in the central areas of Napier and Hastings were levelled and the death toll included 161 people in napier, 93 in hastings, and two in wairoa. Thousands more were injured, with over 400 hospitalised.
The local landscape changed dramatically, with the coastal areas around Napier being lifted by around two metres. The most noticeable land change was the uplifting of some 40 km² of sea-bed to become dry land. This included ahuriri lagoon, which was lifted more than 2.7 metres and resulted in draining 2230 hectares of the lagoon. Today, this area is the location of hawkes bay airport, housing and industrial developments and farmland.
Within minutes fires broke out in chemist shops in Hastings Street, Napier. The fire brigade almost had the first fire under control when the second broke out in a shop at the back of the Masonic Hotel. The hotel was quickly engulfed in flames. The wind at this point also picked up strength and began blowing from the east, pushing the fires back over the city. With water mains broken, the brigade was unable to save many buildings. Pumping water from Clive Square, they were able to stop the fires spreading south. Only a few buildings in the central Napier area survived. Some withstood the earthquake only to be gutted by fire. Trapped people had to be left to burn as people were unable to free them in time. By Wednesday morning, the main fires were out, but the ruins still smouldered for several days.
In Hastings, the fires were quickly brought under control.
The death toll might have been much higher had the royal navy ship hms veronica not been in port at the time. Within minutes of the shock the Veronica had sent radio messages asking for help. The sailors joined survivors to fight the fires, rescue trapped people and help give them medical treatment. The Veronica's radio was used to transmit news of the disaster to the outside world and to seek assistance. The crew from two cargo ships, the Northumberland and Taranaki, also joined the rescue works, while two cruisers, hms diomede and hms dunedin, were dispatched from Auckland that afternoon with food, tents, medicine, blankets, and a team of doctors and nurses. The cruisers sailed at high speed overnight, arrived on 4 February and provided valuable assistance in all areas until their departure on 11 February.
A group of prisoners working at Bluff Hill in Napier had four of their number buried in a landslip by the quake. The remaining prisoners dug them out, but two had been killed. The prisoners re-assembled without any attempt to escape and were locked up in the Napier Jail. Intaradale, Mission Estate missionaries' accommodation block had been built and opened in February 1931. The next day the Hawke's Bay earthquake struck, causing serious damage to the entire Mission. Two priests and seven students were killed when the stone chapel was destroyed. In havelock north, St Luke's church was damaged (but not destroyed) just before a wedding was due to take place. The couple got married later in the day, but outdoors.
Within four days of the quake, cinemas around New Zealand offered news specials about the disaster.
Another casualty of the earthquake was the Napier trams. The tracks were twisted by the earthquake, and were never restored.
New Zealand's first commercial air disaster occurred six days after the quake, when a domination air lines desoutter monoplane crashed near Wairoa. The small airline had been making three return trips a day between Hastings and Gisborne, carrying passengers and supplies. All three on board were killed.
The Napier Daily Telegraph had recently celebrated its diamond jubilee with an article describing Napier as "the nice of the Pacific". The newspaper office was destroyed by the quake. The Hawke's Bay Herald offices in Hastings were also destroyed.
It is still possible to see the original path of the earthquake from napier prison .