Sez Nathan and her family watched as the walls of their Waiau home crumbled around them in the early hours of this morning.
Her daughter's bedroom has been completely destroyed and the family of seven are now scrambling to gather what they can.
Nathan says they realise they shouldn't have gone inside the house, but went in to grab whatever food.
They've also managed to get some clothing, filling the washing basket with everything she could.
The Nathan family are one of many in the isolated town who have been left with major damage to their home.
The owner of the Waiau Motor Camp is expecting to house locals as the isolated north Canterbury settlement bands together in the wake of a quake that has cut them off from the mainland.
Brent Proffitt says the township has been left without power, cellphone coverage and water.
Some buildings, including the town's historic hotel, are so badly damaged by the quake they will need to be demolished.
But to his knowledge everyone in the 600-strong north Canterbury settlement has come through uninjured bar minor scraps and cuts.
Proffitt told the Herald volunteer firefighters immediately swung into action setting up an emergency assembly point at the local school to offer comfort to shaken residents.
"Everyone is banding together and we're getting into the community spirit."
He described the damage throughout the town as a mixed bag. His campground had come through largely unscathed.
One of the worst affected buildings was the historic Waiau Lodge Hotel.
"We understand that the local hotel is pretty well buggered. The chimneys have exploded inside, there are cracks in the foundation and plaster has fallen off. It's taken an absolute hiding."
Food from the freezer from the badly damaged hotel was being used to feed the community.
He said locals had no idea how long it would take for the community to get back on its feet but they were planning on earthquake disruption to last longer than 24 hours.
Contractors and the army were now trying to secure access in and out of Waiau but that was likely to take more than a day.
"We know they're working on the bridge and some emergency vehicles are starting to cross."
He said he expected his campground would become a makeshift home to displaced residents.
Around 20 international visitors including some from the United Kingdom and Germany were staying at the campground when the earthquake struck.
He said within minutes of a quake he described as more ferocious than the Christchurch tremors.
"She was a doozey.
"It was just into it. There was no warning, just into it and it was long."
Everything inside his home was thrown "all over the show".
Newstalk ZB's Chelsea Daniels has walked across the Waiau River bridge and in to the town - because extensive damage to roads means vehicles can't get in or out.
She says there are dozens of chimneys broken and cracked roads.
"Through the town, the school swimming pool is completely destroyed, the War Memorial is in pieces and the Anglican Church bell tower is hanging off the wall of the building."
She says a lot of houses have quite significant cosmetic and exterior damage.
Resident Matthew Hedgcock said shaken residents had been told to hunker down and cope without outside assistance for the meantime.
"We are just sitting ducks at the moment as the civil defence have said that they aren't planning on coming out here anytime soon ."
He said a few people were shaken up but no one was injured that he was aware of.
The Waiau bridge had been closed and a lot of the roads out of Waiau were inaccessible due to cracks and road dropping in places.
He said there was no reception in Waiau at the moment and residents have had to go up to Waiau hill to get reception.