Sound: Prime Minister Sidney Holland at the Tangiwai disaster

Hear Prime Minister Sidney Holland's Christmas Day announcement about the Tangiwai disaster. Holland spoke by phone from Waiouru Military Camp to Wellington, where the recording was made on disc for later broadcast. The occasional humming noise is probably from other telephone traffic causing the Holland signal to 'drop off' the line.


[Some words are hard to decipher.]

I regret the delay to the commencement of this broadcast due to the improvisation of broadcasting arrangements here at Waiouru [Military?] Camp under very difficult circumstances.

It is with profound regret that I have to announce that a most serious railway accident has occurred to the 3 p.m. express travelling from Wellington to Auckland. The disaster occurred at 10.21 p.m. last night, three-quarters of a mile north of Tangiwai – T A N G I W A I – which is 7 miles north of Waiouru. The train, which was on time at Waiouru, and also at Tangiwai, reached the railway bridge crossing, the Whangaehu River – W H A N G A E H U – Whangaehu River, sometimes called the Sulphur Stream.

So far as can be ascertained, an enormous volume of water swept [down the river?]. The cause of the tremendous and sudden flood is not known, but it apparently hit the bridge immediately before the train reached the spot. It appears that immediately prior to the accident, two huge concrete piers had been washed out and collapsed with the weight of the engine. The engine had almost crossed the bridge, but it had rolled back into the river. The six following carriages, which were on the bridge, fell into the river as the bridge collapsed. The carriages and the unfortunate occupants of the five front carriages were swept down [the river?]. Rescue and organisation work [?] of the disaster has been proceeding at high pressure ever since [its discovery?], and large numbers of helpers are out at the present time.

I am speaking from Waiouru Camp after spending some time at the scene of the accident. A headquarters organisation has been set up at Waiouru Military Camp to deal with the situation. I will endeavour to give as much information as possible, and further details will be supplied from time to time as they are available. Radio will be used for this purpose as newspapers are not published today.

I deeply regret to say that this is the most disastrous railway accident in New Zealand's history and unfortunately it has been attended by appalling loss of life. When the express left Taihape, it carried 275 passengers. At Waiouru, eight passengers left the train. Thus at the time of the disaster, there were 267 passengers. Of this number, only 103 have so far been accounted for. And these include 56 passengers who remained in that part of the train that was not involved [in the accident?].

Twelve people are in the Raetihi hospital, but I am not at the moment able to state their condition, but will give this information when it is available. There are 21 persons in hospital at Waiouru Military Camp, these people were in the last carriage to fall into the river, and all had a miraculous escape. None of these people is seriously hurt. There were 22 passengers in that carriage, and all but one were rescued. Fourteen people are being cared for by local [families?] in the Karioi district – K A R I O I. Thirteen bodies have so far been recovered. This leaves 151 persons so far unaccounted for and for whom large search parties are now operating over many miles of the river. Fifty-six of the persons accounted for returned to Marton by train, and two returned to Taihape by private car.

It would be impossible to describe the scene in words. The enormous concrete piles on which the bridge rested [are gone?], and so great was the force of the flood waters that these huge piers were washed far downstream. The chassis of one of the large railway carriages is now several miles downstream. Some bodies have been recovered 15 miles from the scene of the disaster. I gravely fear that there is little hope of further persons being rescued alive. And it therefore appears that the death roll be 164, of whom 13 have already been recovered.

The explanation of the difficulty in recovering bodies is that a wall of water about 20 feet high swept down the river. Enormous quantities of silt and rock have been swept down, and it is feared that many bodies have thus been buried. Farmers and others with property on the banks of this river as far as the sea are asked to keep a close watch and to send reports to the nearest police station.

The organisation that has been set up at Waiouru Military Camp includes the police, railways, works, army, navy and many others. It has been divided into various aspects to be dealt with. I cannot too highly praise the work of hundreds, who have worked without rest throughout the night and up to the present time. Mr Kearins, MP for the district, met me on my arrival from Auckland this morning, and he is helping in dealing with the situation.

Would the public please understand that this is merely an interim report, prepared under difficult circumstances, but further information will be broadcast later on today. The Relief Organisation Committee will meet at Waiouru again at 4 p.m. this afternoon. In the meantime, lists of names are being prepared and checked, and these will be broadcast at the earliest possible moment. It is with the deepest regret that I have to make this statement on Christmas Day, but I feel no doubt that it was my simple duty to do so. [END]

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