Constable Bob Williams and Sergeant Syd Goodliff were on routine patrol along Beaumont Street, Hamilton when “everything started to explode” with walls and awnings crashing down on shoppers.
Frightened shoppers ran into the street, some screaming and crying, others wandered around dazed.
Several people were partially buried, others were digging under rubble with their hands to free the unlucky ones.
“All of a sudden everything was falling down everywhere, some partially buried,” Constable Williams said.
“Half a dozen people started to throw rubble off. Then everyone was digging in a mad panic to try to get people out.”
The two police officers joined with others in a frantic attempt to pull people from the rubble.
Distraught people ran to them desperately wanting to know if friends and family in the street were safe.
At Flanagan’s Pharmacy, Sergeant Goodliff found an injured woman in the rubble, her leg sliced from her body.
She lay near a man with severe head injuries.
“It was pandemonium,” he said. “People were panicking. They were running around screaming and crying.
“Some were wandering around in shock.”
By mid afternoon, the street had been cordoned off for emergency services.
The scene was devastating.
Shop after shop had been damaged.
Buildings were without walls, awnings or facades.
Four upstairs bedrooms lay exposed inside the Kent Hotel, its front wall missing, but the beds were in place, neat and tidy.
By 3.30pm bulldozers had cleaned much of the rubble.
Rescue workers pulled away bricks hanging precariously from buildings.
Police stood at every corner, keeping onlookers away from danger.
Throughout the afternoon, shop owners pleaded in vain with police to let them back into damaged buildings.
A banker wanted to check on a large sum of cash left behind, while another wanted to retrieve computer equipment.
Police had to increase their numbers in Beaumont Street that night to prevent looting.
It has been 25 years since an earthquake devastated the city of Newcastle and rocked the Lower Hunter Valley.
Christ Church Cathedral will host an anniversary service of commemoration and thanksgiving this Sunday, December 28 at 3pm.
The service will remember the lives lost in the disaster and give thanks for the restoration of the cathedral and other buildings in the community.
Thirteen lives were lost on that fateful day between Christmas and New Year’s Eve in 1989.
The service will include reading the names of the people who died as a result of the earthquake, the lighting of a candle for each and the laying of wreaths.
Music will be provided by Newcastle City Choir, footage from the day of the earthquake will be shown during the service and an address will be given by Newcastle Museum deputy director Julie Baird.
Christ Church Cathedral was so badly damaged after the earthquake the initial response of authorities was to destroy it.
Many other historical Newcastle buildings were decimated, along with 35,000 homes, resulting in 1000 displaced people and a $4 billion damage bill.
“Twenty five years ago the Newcastle earthquake caused an astounding amount of destruction and distress to the city and our community,” Dean of Newcastle Father Stephen Williams said
“This service provides an opportunity to gather together in an iconic building which suffered terrible damage, to give thanks for all those members of the community who worked to bring healing and restoration.”
The service will celebrate the earthquake heroes who saved lives and restored buildings in the Newcastle community over the following years, police and emergency services, fire brigade and ambulance services, medical teams, community service organisations, chaplains and counsellors, welfare organisations, local, state and national governments, council officers, the building industry and associated trades, stonemasons, drillers, electricians, architects, engineers and surveyors.
Lord Mayor of Newcastle at the time of the 1989 earthquake, John McNaughton praised the resilience of the community and the recovery of the city.
“Although the earthquake was a tragedy, the community came through the trauma remarkably well,” he said. “This service is important for remembering the past and better preparing ourselves for the future.”
Family members of those who died will attend the service, along with dignitaries John and Margaret McNaughton, University of Newcastle chaplain Gregg Heathcote and Charlestown MP Jodie Harrison.
Refreshments will be served at Newcastle Museum after the service.
Maitland escaped the full force of the December 28, 1989, earthquake.
Shoppers ran from stores, power was disrupted, communications were thrown into chaos and traffic lights failed.
The historic Mansfield at the eastern end of High Street seemed to be the worst hit.
Its ornate sandstone urns fell from the peak of the building and smashed onto the footpath below.
To this day, Maitland people do not know how these urns managed to miss pedestrians on the footpath below.
Maitland homes shook as paintings fell from walls, glasses tumbled from shelves, windows rattled and walls and floors moved.
Police ordered the evacuation of businesses and shopping centres.
Stunned shoppers in the-then Heritage Mall fled from the city centre, many thinking a bomb had gone off or a mine had exploded.
Products flew off shelves and shoppers ran for cover.
At Pender Place shopping centre, part of the ceiling collapsed.
The car park under Kmart was closed until it could be inspected for structural damage.
Police warned shoppers about the dangers of standing near buildings and under awnings.
For 90-minutes after the quake hit, there was fear in Maitland that an aftershock would send waves back through the city.
Newcastle Museum will host a range of activities to commemorate the heroes, victims and events of the Newcastle earthquake 25 years ago.
AFTERSHOCKS: A live performance commemorating the heroes, victims and events of the Newcastle Earthquake that put our city in the record books.
Performance times are Sunday, December 28 at 10.27 am - at the precise time of the earthquake 25 years ago.
Monday, December 29 at noon and 7pm.
Bookings are essential on 4974 1401.
EARTHQUAKE THEN AND NOW: exhibition until February 8.
Newcastle Museum has recreated 25 images taken that fateful day.
- Albert Gavin Bender, 75, Merewether. Killed in the rubble of the Newcastle Workers Club.
- Dulcie Alice Bliim, 78, Hamilton. Killed under a collapsed wall in Beaumont Street while shopping for a dress.
- Carol Anne Coxhell, 49, Adamstown Heights. Killed while filling poker machines at Newcastle Workers Club.
- Miriam Coleen Duffy, 62, Whitebridge. Killed in the collapse of Newcastle Workers Club.
- Cyril Keith McMahon, 62, Hamilton. Killed under a collapsing wall in Beaumont Street, Hamilton.
- Verlina Maree March, 53, Carrington. Killed while playing poker machines at Newcastle Workers Club.
- Leonard Charles Norris, 60, Newcastle. Killed in the basement of the workers club where he was visiting a friend.
- Barry Francis Spark, 60, Mayfield. Killed in the basement maintenance room at the workers club.
- Peggy Theresa Stone, 75, Thornton. Killed inside the workers club where she had gone for her weekly hoi game.
- Eileen Mary Werren, 69, Mayfield West. Killed at the workers club, where she had gone to renew her membership.
- John Anthony O’Shanassy, 30, Sydney. A rock band roadie killed setting up for a Split Enz concert at the workers club that night.
- Levener Georgia Watson, 63, Blackalls Park. Died the next day from a brain haemorrhage bought on by the stress of the earthquake.
- Cecil Robert Abbott, 59, Hamilton. Killed by a falling awning as he stopped for a chat outside the Kent Hotel.
- The Newcastle earthquake was a Richter magnitude 5.6 quake that occurred on December 28, 1989 at 10.27am.
- The quake was one of Australia’s most serious natural disasters, killing 13 people and injuring more than 160 others. The damage bill was estimated at $4 billion.
- The Newcastle earthquake was the first Australian quake in recorded history to claim human lives.
- The effects of the quake were felt over an area of 200,000 square kilometres in NSW, with reports of movement in areas up to 800 kilometres from Newcastle.
- Damage to buildings and facilities was reported over an area of 9000 square kilometres.
- The highest death toll and damage occurred at Newcastle Workers Club where the floor collapsed. Nine people were killed and many more were trapped beneath rubble.
- Three people were crushed to death under collapsed awnings on Beaumont Street, Hamilton. Following the death of a woman at Broadmeadow from earthquake-related shock, the final death toll was 13.
- The earthquake caused damage to more than 35,000 homes, 147 schools and 3000 commercial and other buildings. There was damage worth more than $1000 to 10,000 homes and 42 schools with structural damage in the Newcastle area.
- The number of people in the city on the day of the earthquake was lower than usual because of a bus drivers’ strike. The earthquake struck in the middle of an interview with a union representative by NBN television.