Tears trickle down the faces of Kaikoura quake victims as they realise how long the road to recovery stretches before them.

More than a week after the 7.8-magnitude earthquake and nerves are frayed, families are exhausted and emotions are running high in the community.

Some people have had their businesses destroyed, their homes ruined and two people have died in the disaster. More than 4500 aftershocks have rattled residents with 17 of those being over magnitude 5.

Ruth Stirnimann, 60, was shocked with how unstable her usually strong self became.

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"You can really get crazy about the fear. It's a very big mental exercise.

"I was walking from one room to the other picking up stuff. I didn't know what to do."

Stirnimann ran outside and lay on the dewy ground after the quake until her children rescued her at 3am. The next time she saw her home everything was trashed.

More than 4500 aftershocks have rattled residents with 17 of those being over magnitude 5. Photo / Mike Scott
More than 4500 aftershocks have rattled residents with 17 of those being over magnitude 5. Photo / Mike Scott

Stirnimann's two children who live in Kaikoura helped her pick up the pieces and she stayed with them until Sunday. She said the earthquake made her confront her fear of death.

"You have this fear of dying. In a way it's crucial to enjoy life.

"When I went to bed the first night I had to face my fears. We have to cope with the fear of death."

Stirnimann, who moved to Kaikoura from Switzerland 14 years ago, said she isn't even the worst off. She has friends who are totally emotionally and mentally overwhelmed.

Red Cross field operations manager Trudy Taylor said they had seen a big psychological impact in the hardest-hit areas.

"A lot of people have realised this is not a short-term thing and they are starting to get quite emotional now."

Red Cross psychosocial training coordinator Pip Mabin said that in extreme cases earthquake stress can develop into post-traumatic stress syndrome. But this will take months or years to emerge.

Mabin said most people will make a natural recovery but it will be hard. The best thing people can do is to surround themselves with loved ones and talk about it.

"It's okay to get emotional and it's okay to sometimes feel as though you can't cope.

"We've been through a really distressing event. Earthquakes are not easy for anyone."

Mabin said it was normal to have good days and bad days.

Pip Mabin says the best thing people can do is to surround themselves with loved ones and talk about it.
Pip Mabin says the best thing people can do is to surround themselves with loved ones and talk about it.

Alpine View Motel owner Ken Jordan can agree with this. He had two good days before having a bad day today when he picked up a photo of his sister who died in a car crash that the earthquake had shaken to the ground.

His wife Jenny Jordan ran outside with bloody feet after the earthquake as she stepped through the shards of her great-grandmother's English crockery. She was so frightened she spent the first three nights in a tent outside.

"It was all breaking around us, the glass. We had to climb over that to get out... Even the light fittings smashed.

"We're fine so that's the main thing, but I still like sleeping in my tent."

In the following days the couple have had to take around 300 booking cancellations which added to the stress.

Now they're back in the house at night but have pushed the bed up to the ranch slider for a quick escape. Jenny still spends most of her time working in the tent outside.

Red Cross member Kath Cosgrove is going door to door offering counselling to those who need it. She said the emotional cracks were starting to show.

"We're a shoulder to cry on and I'm really good at giving hugs.

"I've visited a lot of families who are rallying together and helping each other which is what you want."

John Kirwan will speak about mental health at Thursday's 1pm community meeting in Kaikoura in Churchill Park, or Memorial Hall in wet weather.

Read more: John Kirwan to speak at community meeting
How to help children cope
• Explain what happened and spend time listening to how they feel.
• Stay close with lots of hugs.
• Keep to a familiar routine.
• Get physical - exercise and active games are great for stress release.
• Encourage creativity - it helps calm fears.
• Get your kids involved in making an emergency plan.
• Be a role model by remaining calm - your kids will follow your lead.
• Try to be patient - the effects on your child's behaviour may continue for some time.

How to get help
• Pick up an information leaflet
• Visit the All Right Campaign
• Canterbury District Health Board have a mental health team in Kaikoura
• There are free health services at the hospital
• Call the earthquake support line 0800 777 846