Inangahua Earthquake

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On May 24th 1968 at 5.24 am the second biggest land based earthquake in New Zealand history struck the West Coast of the South Island creating chaos and destruction.

The small town of Inangahua, situated on the west coast of the south island at about 138km from Nelson, was hit by a 7.1 earthquake that was felt from Dunedin to Auckland as well as causing damage in Nelson, Greymouth and Westport. At the time, Inangahua had only a small population of around 3001.

Kitchen after earthquake, Inangahua 1968. Phillip Capper. Retrieved from Wikimedia Commons
Click image to enlarge

The 'quake

As a direct result of the quake, three people were killed and another three were killed days later when a helicopter came down. At Whitecliffs, down the Westport road from Inangahua Junction, Mrs Rona Jackson was killed when the cliffs at the back of the house collapsed and crushed her house. Her mother Mrs Fanny Blackmore, who was also in the house, was pulled out alive but died in Reefton hospital as a consequence of her injuries.2 A taxi driver, Mr Walter Guy, was killed in Greymouth when the bridge he was about to drive over lifted up and hit his car as he drove onto it. Three men from Motueka were killed when the helicopter they were using to survey the power lines around Murchison area hit the lines and came down.

Inangahua Earthquake. Road damage. Christchurch City Libraries
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The earthquake struck a low population area. Inangahua was made up of three settled areas. The Inangahua townshipInangahua Junction and Inangahua landing. Damage to the Junction was extensive. The historic Inangahua hotel was destroyed by a slow moving slip that pushed all buildings off their foundations, as if they were a child's toy blocks instead of people's homes and livelihoods. All buildings on the left side of the main road were destroyed. Inangahua itself was relatively undamaged, although the town had to be evacuated due to the Buller River being damaged by a slip. The people who lived on the Inangahua landing were evacuated, many by foot, and the buildings were never occupied again due to the threat of another slip.

Inangahua Junction bridge after the 1968 earthquake. Phillip Capper. Flickr
Click image to enlarge

Damage in the surrounding areas was less severe. Almost every chimney in Reefton had fallen down, houses had moved on their foundations and several larger buildings were lost, such as the Reefton post office. People were forced to walk from Inangahua to Reefton, which is around 30 kilometres away, to get help and medical attention. Over 40 people were evacuated this way 4.

Inangahua never really recovered. Many of the Inangahua people never went back to their homes. They stayed in Reefton or moved out of the area altogether. The buildings took months and, in some cases, even years to be fully restored. The railway was never fully restored.

Aftermath

Inangahua, Friday May 24. A huge slip has cut the road from Inangahua to Westport, and, beside it, another threatens the hotel (big building top left). Nelson PhotoNews
Click image to enlarge

After the earthquake was over and the damage restored, the area declined. People moved because they feared aftershocks. Employment decreased and school rolls dropped. The main cause of this was the closure of the forestry school. Shops had fewer customers  and more and more ‘Help Wanted' signs were seen in windows. The Reefton area was seeing an economic downfall.

The quake had a strong effect on the local people.  Children were upset and unsettled by the dramatic change in their lives. The quake meant that many of them couldn't go back to their homes for months. Many had to move to Reefton School for a period after the quake after the Inangahua School was left a mess.  For a child, it was a very big change.  Problems amongst the children were observed such as crying, bedwetting and anger, as well as many others.

Families were left with nothing except the clothes on their backs. They had to be ‘equipped' by social services such as Red Cross. In some cases, families in this situation came out of it much better than they went in.  Some school teachers got their students to draw pictures of their personal experience. One boy drew a broken house with rain falling on it. The caption read ‘After the earthquake it rained'. The rain made the recovery and rescue efforts of the town much more complicated.

Personal Story

"We were in bed at Ikamatua and I heard the earthquake coming and told Gloria to hold tight as a large quake was coming. I could hear the stones deep in the ground grinding together. It was one hell of a shake. As it began to slow down we jumped out of bed and rushed to the other end of the house where Craig and Nigel were sleeping. On the way down the hallway I pushed the water heater cupboard door closed but it flew open and collected Gloria in the eye, result: one black eye. The boys were OK but their beds had moved and blocked access to their rooms. We had to push our way in. Craig, our oldest son at 4, described the earthquake as two big trains, steam trains then, meeting outside his window and making it rattle."5

Anna Lineham, 2011, Nayland College

Sources used in this story

  1. Christchurch City Libraries. New Zealand Disasters: Inangahua earthquake.  http://christchurchcitylibraries.com/Kids/NZDisasters/Inangahua.asp
  2. New Zealand disasters. Inangahua Earthquake 24 May 1968. Retrieved from Roots Web on Ancestry.com.  http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~sooty/inangahua.html
  3. New Zealand disasters. 
  4. Lomas, D. (2010, November 14) Run for your lives. New Zealand Listener:   http://www.listener.co.nz/commentary/run-for-your-lives/
  5. Weldon Lineham. tipstreasure4u@gmail.com.  Inangahua Earthquake

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Comments

  • I was in an earthquake once. I was it rangiora at the with my family. I was really scared. At these I have a good father or I would have cuts from glass. We are the ones who survive.

    Posted by melaini steele, 25/05/2015 2:33pm (2 years ago)

  • I LIVED IN WESTPORT. WE COULD NOT GO TO SCHOOL AND OUR CHIMNEY COME DOWN TWICE. THE SECOND WAS A AFTERSHOCK. OUR CHIMNEY FIXED OUR CHIMNEY ON THE FIRST AND THEN THE ONE A WEEK LATTER.

    ME AND MY BROTHER FELL OUT OF BED ON THE EARTHQUAKE

    THE SMELL EVERY WHERE WAS ALFUL. MY MUM AD DAD WENT TO HELP AT THE SHOP AND I WENT TO THE SHOP AND THE SMELL FROM ALL THE CLEANING PRODUCTS AND FOOD ETC WAS ALFUL. THE POWER LINES WERE NOT WORKING. NO SCHOOL FOR A WHILE.

    CHRISTINE

    Posted by CHRISTINE MERRALL, 08/12/2013 4:59pm (4 years ago)

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Further sources - Inangahua Earthquake

Books

  •  New Zealand Society for Earthquake Engineering Bulletin (1969). The Inangahua Earthquake 1968. Christchurch: New Zealand Society for Earthquake Engineering Bulletin. 2.

Articles

  • Worst 'quake since 1931 (1968) The Press. Issue 107
  • Buildings in order to be demolished (1968) The Press. Issue 116
  • Inangahua Earthquake (1971)  New Zealand's heritage, v. 9. Sydney: Hamlyn Paul, pp.2801-2804
  • Three killed in helicopter crash (1968)  The Nelson Mail. 109 (109), 1-3.

Other

Videos

Interviews

  • Weldon Lineham. tipstreasure4u@gmail.com. Inangahua Earthquake

Web Resources