The Murchison Earthquake, 1929
Some of New Zealand's worst earthquakes are matters of recent history. In 1929, about mid-morning on 17 June, both Islands, almost from Auckland to the Bluff, were rocked in greater or less degree by earthquake shocks which struck with devastating force in the upper districts of the South Island from Nelson in the north to Westport and Greymouth in the west. The epicentre of the disturbances was in one of the recognised great fault lines of the South Island in the vicinity of the Lyell Range, a few miles west of Murchison, a small rural township with a population of about 300. In all 17 lives were lost, 10 of those killed being in the Murchison area which was shattered to the extent of being rendered virtually uninhabitable. So severe were the shocks in this region that, if they had occurred in any of the populous localities of the Dominion, the death roll must have been appalling. For many miles around, the countryside was changed from a typical New Zealand pastoral region into a shambles of fissures, landslides, floods, and destroyed roads, bridges, and buildings. Nelson, the nearest city, with a population in excess of 20,000, suffered heavy structural damage, but fortunately was removed from the worst effects of the continuing shocks. Westport and Greymouth, busy centres of the coal industry and thickly populated, were also shaken to their foundations with heavy loss. But it was in the predominantly rural districts in between that the full force of the tremors was felt. Roads, railways, and communication services were either destroyed or so seriously disrupted that the task of evacuation from the stricken areas was dangerous as well as difficult. It was not only man's handiwork that suffered. Mountains, hills, rivers, and lakes were affected by destructive earth movements, and even today, more than 30 years afterwards, tell-tale scars are plainly visible in many spots where subsidence or upthrust has completely altered the topography of the district. The Murchison earthquake was no terror of a day or two. For up to a fortnight, frequently to an accompaniment of rain, thunderstorms, floods, and bitter cold, the tremors followed one after the other.