The sound of bagpipes echoed through the Hastings CBD as survivors of the 1931 Hawke's Bay earthquake yesterday 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, the sea floor was lifted and 253 lives were lost.

Claude Davidson, 97, was at Parkvale School on the morning of the earthquake.

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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 while cars had been pushed out of garages on to the street.

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

Their Willowpark Rd home had split in two and the family was 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.

Velma Everard, 94, was playing at Hastings Central School when it hit.

"Teachers told us to run to the fence and get down."

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."

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.

Mr Yule acknowledged February 3 as the most significant day in Hawke's Bay's history and that 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.