The latest quakes to hit Christchurch has left locals shaken after months of relative peace and quiet.
A 5.8-magnitude quake hit just before 1pm this afternoon, with another similar-sized aftershock reported at about 3.20pm.
Christchurch City Councillor Aaron Keown said the second big quake today felt as strong and lasted as long as the first.
"I was just on the phone to my sister-in-law who is in Hoon Hay, and they had glasses coming off the shelves that time and they did not have that for the first one."
nzherald.co.nz editor-in-chief Jeremy Rees said it felt like there was a lot of sideways motion during the second big aftershock. He saw plates falling off shelves at a store in Cashel Mall. He said people were in tears.
Newstalk ZB reporter Juliette Sivertsen is in her home in Christchurch and said the second shake felt a lot stronger than the first.
"Things have fallen off and crashed over in our house. We've got little children that we're trying to get under the door frame and into a safe place.
It was really, really long, very violent and we are all really shaken up at the moment,'' she says.
Newstalk ZB reporter Elliott Smith was also at his home in Christchurch and says he lurched for a door frame when the second large one hit.
He says the force of the quake was so strong that it knocked it off his feet before he'd reached the door.
Mr Keown was in Templeton in central Christchurch at the time of the first of today's shakes struck.
"It was quite a big jolt. It was rocking, you could hear the buildings creaking and alarms going off.
"A lot of people were running from buildings."
Mr Keown was not aware of any major damage.
"I've been checking with other people and there is no visible signs of damage."
He said those working on buildings in the central city were likely finished demolition work for the Christmas period.
"There are a lot of Christchurch people who have relatives around other parts of New Zealand - I think they'll be spending Christmas with them. You can't really blame them.
"It was a really big shock because I think a lot of people thought they were all over. A lot of Cantabrians have been having those conversations in the last couple of weeks."
"You can see a lot of people are quite visibly shaken. You can see they're thinking 'oh, here we go again'."
Mr Keown was not surprised the quake was centred off the coast.
"Throughout the quakes we were shown modelling that looked like there was a fault line heading in that direction. For one to strike there is no surprised given the modelling I've seen earlier in the year."
Christchurch Star editor Barry Clarke was upstairs in his eastern suburbs home when the second quake hit.
"It was absolutely terrifying. The house swayed violently; you could hear the timber and walls creaking, and cracking sounds. It felt like the house was twisting. In those few seconds I thought at any moment the house would collapse.
"I grabbed my wife and literally dragged her downstairs to get out of the house. The walls and stairs were swaying."
Clarke was in the central city when the first quake struck.
"It reminded me of June 13. It was a rolling type feeling."
Clarke's property, which is in the red zone, suffered more liquefaction.
"It's not as bad as February; probably similar to June, but it's a pain. The stuff just oozes out. But we're not as bad off as some others in the area. The mud and silt has come back big time for them."
Clarke said it would be a sleepless night as the aftershocks continued to hit.
"They're coming every few minutes. You're on edge all the time. Yoiu have to be ready to go (outside) at anytime," he said.
Associate Minister for Canterbury Earthquake Recovery, Amy Adams, was among those shaken by this afternoon's quake.
"I'm not in the central city, I'm out near Darfield in the electorate, but it was bad enough here it had us diving under tables and grabbing each other,'' she told APNZ.
"It's not what anyone needs at the end of a stressful year and heading into Christmas, and with the memory of the big shake of Boxing Day last year very fresh in our minds.''
Close Up reporter Abby Scott was sitting the carpark of Westfield mall as she spoke to TVNZ about the scene in front of her.
She said many Cantabrians had been out Christmas shopping when the earthquake struck shortly before 2pm.
All the staff at TVNZ offices in Christchurch were "ok'', and had evacuated the building after the quake, she said.
When the staff walked outside, car alarms were sounding and many people looked "shaken'', she said.
"This was the biggest and scariest [she had felt since March].''
While talking to the TVNZ newsroom shortly after 2:30pm this afternoon, she reported feeling another shake.
She said talking to people gathered in the carpark, there were conflicting reports; some felt panicked, while others said they were used to Christchurch earthquakes.
Many gathered in the carpark were wearing Santa hats, she said.
"There's an air of festive spirit but everyone's sitting there not really knowing quite what to do.
"People are sitting around waiting to be told what to do.''
TVNZ reporter Charlotte Bellis said the first shake moved many to tears: "There was a lot of hugging, consoling people, crying.''
Newstalk ZB reporter Amanda South was at a park in Sumner when it hit and says she felt sick.
"My gut was just saying no, no, this is big one, why are we having another big one? We've all had this underlying anxiety, what is this isn't done with us."
She said rocks started tumbling down the hills near where she was, people were panicking and there was dust everywhere.
"It hit me like a punch in the gut. It was very scary, very intense, and that's the worst quake I've felt in months and months and months,'' she said.
APNZ journalist Kurt Bayer was sitting in a parked car in Burwood when the earthquake hit.
"The car started rocking gently but it slowly started getting more violent. I was parked under a tree and I was sort of in a quandary as to whether I should drive away from the tree, but there were also old-fashioned power lines along the road which were swinging a good metre so it didn't really matter where I was. I was in the lap of the gods really.
"You're waiting for them to snap, it was pretty scary.''
Mr Bayer had since travelled to Linwood and could see grey, sludgy liquefaction running down the gutters.
"There was no damage that I saw, and I've pretty much driven across the city. I haven't gone near the CBD though ... and if there is any damage that's where it'll be.''
Nienke Prime flew down to Christchurch from Auckland yesterday to celebrate Christmas with her family.
"I was just in Riccarton Mall and the next thing I knew there was a big shudder and everything around us just started shaking and everyone was screaming and running. I just stood there in shock and wouldn't move, I actually had to get carried out because I was in such a state.''
She was also in Christchurch on Boxing Day last year when the region was hit by a swarm of strong quakes.
"I had just come down to Christchurch the night before and then there were about 15 quakes in one day and now here we go again: I arrived here last night and I've been talking to everyone about how there's been no earthquakes for a while and then this happens.
"This was ridiculous, I literally thought I was going to die. I was looking at the roof and waiting for it to fall on top of everyone, that's how bad it was. It was shocking.''
Ms Prime praised the shopkeepers at the mall for keeping calm and helping others, and was grateful to staff at Stirling Sports who took her outside and comforted her.
Christchurch Star reporter Tracey Chatterton was at the library in Beckenham when the quake struck.
She said she had to "hang onto a pole for dear life'' as other people ducked below tables.
Other Cantabrians took to social networking site Twitter in the moments following the 1.58pm shake.
Mike Dickison tweeted: "Six aftershocks and counting; two of them would have been tweet-worthy on any other day.''
Nathanael Boehm said: "We were driving to the shops _ car went mental. U-turned to go home to clean up ... thankfully nothing broken.''
Moata Tamaira said she had a grazed knee after diving under a desk but was otherwise fine.
BlueRose tweeted: "am home and ok tho house is trashed AGAIN.''
Raf Manji said: "Sweeping up broken china, applying plasters to cut fingers ... groundhog day.''
- APNZBy Newstalk ZB, APNZ, Herald Online