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After 48 hours - and what seems like countless aftershocks - the mood of the people of Canterbury is changing.

While many have lost property, or their livelihoods, or in some cases almost their lives, they have moved on from shock and fright, to resilience and determination.

Many have lost a lot, but no one is complaining, and yesterday, with the ground occasionally rumbling beneath their feet, the people of Christchurch got on with things.

Though the aftershocks have continued to keep people across the city on edge, it has simply been a case of carrying on, and hoping the big earthquake was a one-off.

While some areas seem to be unscathed, in patches it looks as if a giant hammer has been brought down on the buildings.

At first, Saturday morning's big shake felt like a dream.

But when I heard my girlfriend's startled cry of "earthquake", I knew it was really happening.

The bedroom was rocking violently, and scariest of all was that the shaking seemed to be building in intensity.

Things began falling in the darkness from shelves and cabinets.

Outside, there was an almighty crash, and the sound of glass shattering, car alarms going off and dogs barking.

My girlfriend went to leap out of bed.

I instinctively pulled her back, worried she would run into the path of falling furniture. In hindsight, her idea to seek safety under the door frame was probably a good one.

But the truth is, in the terrifying seconds the quake was happening, we didn't really know what to do.

We ended up sitting bolt upright on the bed, trying to ride it out, just desperately hoping it would end.

As it built to its peak, it wasn't quite the cliche of your life flashing before your eyes.

But I truly was afraid the sheer power of the quake could cause the whole house to collapse upon us.

I had experienced earthquakes before, but nothing at all like this.

After a minute or so, when the tremors did subside, it went from the surreal experience to a growing concern for our family and friends.

Was this the big alpine quake we had so long been warned about?

What we would find outside, and what do we do next?

We got out of bed, threw on a few clothes and went outside into the dark and the cold to take a look.

Through the darkness, we could make out the shocking sight of my girlfriend's car parked in the driveway, crushed by the brick chimney that had plunged off the neighbour's house.

Outside on the street, in the Christchurch suburb of Linwood, a few other shocked people emerged from their homes.

Nothing could be done, so it was back inside to find a radio and get on to the internet to see what was happening.

With hands shaking from the cold and the effects of the quake, we made calls and sent text messages to see if friends and relatives were okay, while they also were trying to make sure we were okay.

Some were crying over the phone, probably out of relief as much as anything.

The cellphone coverage dropped in and out. Some calls went through, others failed.

As the day was dawning and light was cast over the effects of the earthquake, we got in the car and drove into the central city.

It was not long before we began to encounter some of the devastation.

Buildings on street corners had partially collapsed, walls had caved in, and bricks, concrete and steel was strewn across the streets.

Bleary-eyed residents of one central city building in which the back of the property had collapsed, and a neighbouring building had also come down, stood about on the street looking stunned and trying to take in what had happened.

Carloads of sightseers, with cameras and cellphones in hand, were already starting to gather to get a look and take some photos.

Driving into the heart of central city, a block from Cathedral Square, the true extent of the destruction was revealed.

Dozens had gathered at hastily set up emergency cordons to take photos and look at a two-storey building where the facade had fallen away.

Further north, the brick fronts of a group of shops had come tumbling down on to the street, drawing another mass of onlookers.

A warden keeping people clear of the unstable buildings yelled at motorists to keep moving as they slowed to get a good look.

While pockets of the city are still facing major issues with flooding and roading, outside the city centre much of the population appeared to be getting on with their usual Sunday activities yesterday, but with fewer options because of the closure of major shopping malls and other businesses.