Maike van der Heide looks back at stories of interest from the Marlborough Express files. This instalment is from May 23, 1959.
Picton bore the brunt of a large earthquake, described as being the most violent in Marlborough since the disastrous Murchison earthquake of 1929, just before 7pm on May 22, it is reported in the May 23, 1959 issue of the Marlborough Express.
The 20-second shake, which was felt throughout Marlborough and Wellington but not in Kaikoura, caused severe structural damage at the Terminus Hotel, while plaster fell from walls and ceilings at Oxley's Hotel.
"Practically every household" in Picton had some sort of damage, from cracked walls to bricks falling from chimneys to smashed crockery and ornaments.
But the only reported injury was to Kevin James, the 3 -year-old son of Mr and Mrs L James of Durham St. The youngster was hit on the head by a falling preserving jar, causing a deep cut that needed stitching.
Shop windows in Picton and Blenheim broke "with the effect of an explosion" and staff at Picton's Federal Hotel found themselves standing in an inch of spirits behind the main bar as bottles fell from shelves and smashed.
Retailers in both towns suffered hundreds of pounds of damage. While modern-day mobile networks overload after a major earthquake, as we so recently found out, in 1959 the phones were not much better as people rushed to make calls: "The effect was to immediately overload the automatic telephone exchange, with the result that dialling tone could not be obtained for between five and 10 minutes."
The earthquake caused rail delays in Wellington, causing upset among passengers, while one Marlborough motorist describes feeling the earthquake while driving as "like being on a banana skin".
Because of a short power outage and the "sharpness and nearness of the disturbance", instruments based in Wellington tasked with measuring the scale of the quake failed. Experts could only estimate that the earthquake was centred about 80km west of Wellington.
They concluded it was about force 5 or 6 on the "modified Mercalli" scale that rates a total catastrophe at force 12.
- The Marlborough Express