The true extent of yesterday's giant earthquake on the tiny North Canterbury township of Waiau is only now being fully realised, with fears that at least 15 damaged houses and key town buildings will have to be demolished.

Some houses are so badly quake-damaged that local first responders are considering the use of diggers to bring them down today.

Waiau had been cut off by road for almost 36 hours.

Outside the Waiau Lodge Hotel In Waiau. Photo / Mike Scott
Outside the Waiau Lodge Hotel In Waiau. Photo / Mike Scott

Some supplies and emergency crews helicoptered in to help yesterday.

The Waiau River road bridge has been patched up and reopened.

But some locals feel that they have been left to fend for themselves and are critical of the slow official response.

Search and rescue teams from Christchurch have now arrived to help with the massive post-disaster fallout.

At midday, the Canterbury Civil Defence Emergency Management (CDEM) Group declared a local state of emergency for Canterbury.

A New Zealand Response Team is going door-to-door checking on residents and their general welfare.

Luke Hughes (left) and Troy Simmonds were trapped for one hour in a Waiau house that now has to be demolished. Photo / Supplied
Luke Hughes (left) and Troy Simmonds were trapped for one hour in a Waiau house that now has to be demolished. Photo / Supplied

Meanwhile, local volunteers - Civil Defence, firefighters, builders, residents - are trying to get people back into their homes.

But some won't ever to be allowed back.

It's believed that at least 15 homes and buildings, including the community kindergarten and historic old pub, the Waiau Lodge Hotel, need to come down.

Troy Simmonds, an 18-year-old student and his friend Luke Hughes, were watching YouTube videos when the quake hit just after midnight yesterday.

They clambered under a table to ride out the shaking.

But then they discovered that they were trapped, with the door and windows being blocked.

Simmonds' grandfather smashed his way in to get them out an hour later.

Aerial photo of a slip on State Highway 70 to Waiau. Photo / Sam Smith
Aerial photo of a slip on State Highway 70 to Waiau. Photo / Sam Smith

Today, the Simmonds family, which includes several foster children, have been told that their house is too unsafe to return to.

For Troy Simmonds, it's the last straw.

"I want to leave," he said.

"I don't want to go through that again."

The Simmonds family has received offers of accommodation in nearby Rotherham.

A huge water tanker is parked by the school where people can refresh their drink bottles.

A delivery of portaloos has now shown up and are being dropped on at street corners.

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Pam Stikkelman lived through the Canterbury earthquakes of 2010 and 2011.

But yesterday's jolt was even worse, she says.

Stikkelman is helping to coordinate volunteers and resources at the school where a refuge centre and meeting point has been going since the early hours of yesterday.

"I've been through Christchurch, so I know what to do," she says, welcoming people with bundles of food, and designating children and adults alike different tasks.

She says the loss of so many homes and buildings will be devastating for the small rural community.

"It's a lot for a place like Waiau," she said.

Stikkelman says fresh water and sanitation are the top priorities right now.

For local builder and painter, as well as Civil Defence and fire volunteer, Peter Bush it's about getting people back into their homes.

He and others have been shoring up or demolishing damaged chimneys, covering exposed septic tanks, and looking to fence or demolish unstable properties.

Bush has had two hours sleep in two days and can't see any on the immediate horizon.

"There's so much to do," he says.