The Catastrophic Hawkes Bay Floods…in 1938

This NZ Geo article demonstrates that flooding in Hawkes Bay is nothing new. We’ve been there before and it was every bit as tragic! MH

Excerpts from the article “Inundated” by Erick Brenstrum

Image from Alexander Turbnbull Library

“.. the Esk Valley flood of April 1938. This latter event lasted three days, bringing up to a metre of rain to an area of Hawke’s Bay about 16 kilometres wide and 60 kilometres long from Kotemaori to the watershed of the Tutaekuri River. Parts of Napier, Clive and Hastings were flooded a metre deep and the level of Lake Tutira, north of Napier, rose by three metres after more than 300 millimetres of rain in 14 hours. Worst hit was the Esk Valley, where the river rose 10 metres in one stretch..

“Fifty-four bridges were washed away or severely damaged across the district, stranding many people. Slips were widespread. One farmhouse, well above the Esk River, was partially destroyed by one and the occupants forced to flee through the rain to the woolshed. Minutes later, a larger slip crushed the rest of the house and buried the remains under 15 metres of debris. The family were forced to stay in the woolshed for three days before the river fell enough for them to escape on horseback.

So much sediment washed into the river that the Esk Valley was left covered in silt one to three metres deep when the floodwaters subsided. The water was more than two metres over the floor of the Eskdale Railway Station, and silt lay 1.6 metres deep. The silt was dug out of some houses but the old road running up the valley remains buried beneath the road since built over it. Once the silt had consolidated on farmland, new fences were installed; some posts were placed on top of the old buried posts.

An estimated 12,000 cubic metres of slips came down over the Napier-Wairoa railway line and more than 15,000 cubic metres of material washed out from under the tracks. The mouth of the Mohaka tunnel was blocked by five metres of debris and water backed up in the tunnel.

Some families were cut off for weeks and supplies had to be dropped to them by aircraft. One aeroplane crashed in the Pakuratahi Valley and the injured crew had to wait 19 hours before medical help could reach them as the bridge over the Esk River was down. A wire was taken across the flooded river by a man on horseback with some difficulty as the horse lost its footing several times. Once the wire was secured, a boat was attached to it, enabling the crossing to be made.

The extent of the erosion was mostly blamed on the intensity of the rain, which reached 420 millimetres in 24 hours at Puketitiri on April 24, but the killer Hawke’s Bay earthquake of 1931 may also have contributed to instability of the land. There had also been record rain in late January, when the remains of a tropical cyclone affected Hawke’s Bay, triggering some slips. Widespread thunderstorms in the middle of February added more rain to the landscape. One of these caused a flash flood in the Kopuawhara Valley that drowned 21 people working on the tunnels for the railway between Napier and Gisborne.

Much of Hawke’s Bay had recovered by the following summer, but not the Esk Valley, which remained a desolate wasteland of dried mud and dead trees, prone to dust storms as soon as the wind got up…”


Inundated | New Zealand Geographic (

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Martin Harris

I have a lovely partner and 3 very active youngsters. We live in the earthquake ravaged Eastern Suburbs of Christchurch, New Zealand. I began commenting/posting on Uncensored back in early 2012 looking for discussion and answers on the cause and agendas relating to our quakes. I have always maintained an interest in ancient mysteries, UFOs, hidden agendas, geoengineering and secret societies and keep a close eye on current world events. Since 2013 I have been an active member of community, being granted admin status and publishing many blogs and discussion threads. At this time I'm now helping out with admin and moderation duties here at Uncensored where my online "life" began.

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