National MP Alfred Ngaro's face as he spoke in Parliament while the earthquake hit is now splashed across international media but the MP says he did not even feel it.

As the quake hit, Ngaro was speaking – a moment on Parliament TV that now features on news websites worldwide.

As the MPs around him started reacting to it, Ngaro fell silent – but he later admitted he had not felt a thing.

"I thought the way they were looking around that I was speaking from the wrong notes, or even on the wrong bill. Anne [Tolley] thought I had nerves of steel. I said 'I didn't feel a thing'."

Advertisement

Ngaro was possibly the only one in the building not to feel it.

As a general rule, Parliament is one of the safest places to be in Wellington when an earthquake hits.

All the inhabitants know that, but it does not help much in the heat of the moment – and the 6.2 which hit in Taumarunui was strong enough in Wellington to prompt the very rare event of Parliament being suspended.

The MPs were at in the process of discussing the a bill to prohibit letting fees on rental properties.

Deputy Speaker Anne Tolley interrupted Ngaro, and ordered the public galleries to empty and the handful of MPs in the Debating Chamber to return to their offices to check on staff.

Wellington is no stranger to quakes, but Tolley could be heard talking to Phil Twyford about the decision to halt Parliament. "I think it was [the right thing to do]," Tolley said.

"Because that was enormous."

Parliament was put back in business about 15 minutes later after a quick check for damage.

Afterward, Southland MP Hamish Walker said it was the first quake he had felt and he had leaped under his desk, yelling at his executive assistant to do the same.

Kris Faafoi, the Minister of Civil Defence, said he had been in the debating chamber when it hit. He noted Parliament's downfall for MPs was that the "desks" in Parliament are tiny fold-down contraptions which provide very little protective reassurance.

National's Judith Collins also had a problem – she had two other people in her office and only room for one under her desk.

Asked if she was tempted to yell "it's everyone for themselves" and leap under, she said she had stayed at her desk in solidarity.

"It was mildly exciting, that quake" Collins said. "Nothing fell off the shelves or the walls but I was watching them do a bit of a dance. It would be up there with the biggest [I've felt]. It was pretty big. Certainly in this building."

As for the other inhabitants, including journalists, it helps if you are in the Copperfields Cafe when an earthquake hits because you know if you get stranded there are supplies.

There I was sitting with Speaker Trevor Mallard when it hit.

Each quake – and there have been a few – requires a period of sitting dead still to assess whether or not it warrants leaping under a table.

In this case, Mallard didn't raise an eyebrow, seemingly oblivious to the concrete beam above his head.

A couple – myself included – got to the stage of edging the chair back to be ready to dive.

But there were no drop, cover and holders in Copperfields that day. The Christchurch-based MPs, Ruth Dyson, Duncan Webb and Gerry Brownlee, are hardened quake veterans and wandered in to grab something to eat, discussing the size and depth of the quake.

After drop, cover and hold comes jokes.

Once the shock subsides the jokes start. The running gag at Parliament was that it was all the Speaker's fault for taking Jesus out of the parliamentary prayer.

A large group of protesters had been at Parliament just an hour before to demand he add Jesus back in.

The Speaker did not seem persuaded by the divine intervention argument for the quake.

Perhaps things would have been different had he known the MP speaking in Parliament when the quake hit was National MP Alfred Ngaro – the very same MP who helped organise the prayer protest.