The sound of bagpipes echoed through the Hastings CBD as survivors of the 1931 Hawke's Bay earthquake today gathered to reflect on the destruction the two and a half minute, 7.8 magnitude quake left in its wake.

It was 10.47am Tuesday morning February 3, 1931.

Bricks fired from buildings like missiles, the sea floor was lifted and once the dust settled, 253 lives were lost.

Joining the survivors for the 85th commemoration were children from St Matthew's Primary, the Kahurangi Maori Dance Company, Hastings mayor Lawrence Yule, Napier mayor Bill Dalton, historian Michael Fowler, Bishop Andrew Hedge and more than 100 locals paid their respects to commemorate that fateful day.

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Mr Yule acknowledged February 3 as the most significant day in Hawke's Bay's history.
"The memories of that day will never be erased," Mr Yule said.

"It took courage to rebuild both cities."

He said the region's acclaimed art deco architecture was one of the few positives to come out of the disaster.

"We remember the people that made Hawke's Bay what it is today," Mr Yule said.

Bishop Hedge spoke of the ordinariness of that morning, people going about their daily routines unaware of the tragedy awaiting them.

He said people surrounded by the grievous destruction banded together.

"As locals watched body after body pulled from the rubble it emphasised the importance of looking out for each other."

In an act of defiance against nature Hastings rebuilt the clock tower to represent new beginnings.

The comforting familiar tones of the chimes gave people a sense of normality in a period of uncertainty.

Claude Davidson, 97, has lived in Hastings since he was five-years-old.

He was at Parkvale School on the morning of the earthquake.

Aged 12 at the time, Mr Davidson remembers seeing a cow jump a fence and the land begin to tremor.

He recalls the water from the pool shooting into the air.

The memories of are still vivid for Mr Davidson.

Cars had been pushed out of garages onto the street.

There were more houses in ruins than were intact.

"We counted the standing chimneys on the way home."

His heavily pregnant mother was chased outside by a gas oven.

Their Willowpark Rd home had split in two and the family were forced to wash in a horse trough.

"We were in survival mode, we made temporary shelter out of poles and a tarp and built a barbecue out of bricks.

His family left Hastings five days following the quake for Palmerston North. However they weren't the only locals to make the move.

"It was turmoil," Mr Davidson said.

The family eventually returned to the Bay to help aid in the rebuild of the city.

Velma Everard, 94, was playing at Hastings Central School when the quake struck.
"Teachers told us to run to the fence and get down."

My father ran from Karamu Rd to school to make sure we were safe.
She said her brother was on an orchard at the time.

"He grabbed the base of a tree which spun him around several times while his dog tried to bury himself."

Mrs Everard had to walk through the CBD to get home to Avenue Rd where she saw bodies being pulled from the debris.

"That still sticks with me today," she said.

Once she arrived home she discovered the house had been turned completely around.

Worse still, she lost her neighbour and best friend, 14-year-old Cyril Heney who
died on Karamu Rd while at work.

"I remember him each year on this day."

Dad built the children a tent on the front footpath and told them it was their new bedroom, Mrs Everard said.

After about a week the family escaped the carnage of the quake to Ashburton to stay with family.

She has very fond memories of her time there.

When the family returned to the Bay a few weeks later restoration was well underway.
"It was much better than when we left it."

"The quake rallied people and showed the strong spirit of the community.