Many people evacuated from the north Canterbury town of Kaiapoi due to the tsunami risk have hunkered down in their vehicles at the Pak n'Save carpark in a nearby town.

The Herald understands the carpark at the Rangiora supermarket, about 11km inland from Kaiapoi, is full of people seeking a safe place to park, petrol and supplies.

The supermarket is yet to open for business, but staff are doing their bit to help fleeing residents.

Kineta Booker has spent much of the night in her car with her husband and toddler.

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The couple went to get petrol from the self-service pumps after leaving their home near the coast.

Booker said out of nowhere a team of supermarket staff came out and started checking on people in the carpark.

"My car was on empty so we went searching," she said.

"Everyone was queued up and these angels came out of nowhere and they were making sure everyone was doing okay, even while they're probably freaking out themselves. It was so awesome."

Booker said the supermarket itself was still closed, but staff were giving out fruit to shaken and displaced families.

After the quake the couple headed north towards Oxford but stopped at Cust.

"Hundreds upon hundreds of people are parked up, sleeping on the side of the road. It's surreal," Booker told the Herald.

Booker said the quake was "long and scary".

She was also in the city when the fatal earthquake struck in February 2011.

She said the worst part of this morning's quake was that "it just kept going".

"And then when it shifted into second gear... Can't believe we've got to get used to these all again," she told the Herald.