Initial reports indicate South Canterbury escaped with only minor damage from the 7.1 magnitude earthquake which struck near Christchurch early this morning.
Emergency Services co-ordinator for the Timaru District Council Lamorna Cooper said the only serious damage reported by 7.30am had occurred in Temuka, 18km north of Timaru, where a number of older brick and concrete buildings had been cordoned off for safety.
Ms Cooper said the faade on the historic Royal Hotel had collapsed and the steeple on St John's Church sustained damaged.
"Apart from that we have had no reports, so far, of anything serious in the district.
"Our teams got into gear very quickly but this has been a bit of a wake up call (about emergency planning) for many people."
The Timaru District civil emergency system had worked well with local news media, particularly radio stations, playing a key role in keeping the public informed of developments, Ms Cooper said.
An emergency first response team and building inspectors had been sent north to the Selwyn District to assist where the damage was greater, she said.
Primeport Timaru chief executive Jeremy Boys said detailed inspections would be carried out today but early indications were that there was no damage to the port.
A Timaru District Council emergency first response team and building inspectors had been sent north to the Selwyn District, where the damage was worse, she said.
Timaru resident Frank Hamilton said he heard the earthquake approaching a few seconds before it struck.
"It sounded like a big truck load of rubbish bins coming down the road. It woke me up. We often hear heavy traffic to the north of us but this was coming the other way and then it hit."
Hamish McMillan, who lives in a rough-caste two-storied house in central Timaru, said it swayed vigorously but there was no damage. A small television set fell to the floor but, apart from that everything seemed to be intact, he said.
- NZPABy Tom O'Connor