50th Anniversary of the Īnangahua Earthquake

The 24th of May marked the 50th anniversary of the Īnangahua earthquake of 1968, which caused widespread damage in the northern part of the South Island. This 7.1 magnitude earthquake struck at 5:24am, Friday 24 May, 1968. It resulted in the mass evacuation of Īnangahua and the deaths of two people (husband and wife) due to rock-fall at their farm at Whitecliffs, several kilometres west of Inangahua.

In conjunction with this anniversary, David Johnston, Denise Blake and Emily Campbell of the Joint Centre, along with Simon Nathan and Hamish Campbell (GNS), Aly Curd (Red Cross/Massey University), Helen McCracken (Manatū Taonga - Ministry for Culture and Heritage), and Caroline Orchiston (University of Otago) accompanied by her daughter Sophie, held a field trip on 23-24 May under QuakeCoRE’s Flagship 5 research programme.

The aim of the trip was to highlight the enduring role past disasters have on local communities and our wider society, and the process of remembrance, as a way of telling of our disaster histories in the present day. Memorialising disasters such as the Īnangahua Earthquake enables people and societies to remember and come to terms with what has occurred. The process of memorialisation can take tangible forms that include museum displays, memorial publications and monuments (both secular and religious), or intangible acts of remembrance, such as private or public services or commemorations.

While in town for the anniversary, the group also assisted local Civil Defence to arrange a public commemoration service in Īnangahua at the local museum. The service was opened by the Buller Mayor, Garry Howard, followed by a moment of silence to remember those affected and an unveiling of the memorial plaque by local Warren Inwood. After a break for morning tea, 3 of the members gave science presentations to the room. These included:

  • Hamish Campbell (GNS Science): Earth’s Crust: What are earthquakes? Why does New Zealand have them? 
  • Simon Nathan (GNS Science): Inangahua earthquake: looking back at the impact
  • Caroline Orchiston (AF8, University of Otago): Present risk of earthquakes in our region and the Alpine Fault

The participation of Simon was important as he was a direct link between our party and the Īnangahua Earthquake. He was involved in the official (NZ government) geological response team that assessed the environmental effects of the earthquake back in 1968. Additionally, the presentations about how earthquakes are caused from Hamish, as well as information regarding the Alpine Fault threat from Caroline, helped to enhance awareness, understanding, and potentially even further preparedness and resilience within this community to large-scale earthquakes or events in the future.

The service proved to be a great success, with around 80 locals in attendance, including a TV1 reporter whose footage of the event went to air that evening. It was clear that this memorial event triggered many memories for the local community, many of whom expressed surprise at the large turn-out. It was claimed that the Inangahua Museum had not hosted this number of people in living memory.

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