An historic pub in the South Canterbury town of Temuka has been badly damaged by today's earthquake and the proprietor is unsure when it will reopen.

Damage to the town of Temuka, 18km north of Timaru, was not widespread but both the Royal Hotel and the St Joseph's Catholic Church were damaged in the 7.1 magnitude quake which left Christchurch badly damaged and without power, water, sewerage services and gas.

The damage spread north to Kaiapoi, west to Darfield and south to Temuka.

Early reports indicate South Canterbury escaped with relatively minor damage, apart from the historic buildings in Temuka.

Maz Opele, the proprietor of the Royal Hotel in Temuka, said a large hole had opened up in the masonry wall at the front of the hotel, there was a big crack in the rear wall and the front balcony was being demolished because of the damage.

It was scary when the earthquake struck but when she saw the damage at the front she realised the severity of it, she said.

The entire front porch and balcony were being demolished because they were unsafe, and the wall would also need reinforcing.

"I am still shaking," Ms Opele told NZPA.

The steeple on top of St Joseph's Catholic Church in Temuka had moved about 10cm, Father Brian Fennessy said.

A crane would be needed to repair the steeple but the church building was not damaged, he said.

Emergency services co-ordinator for the Timaru District Council Lamorna Cooper said apart from the church and the hotel there were no other reports of serious damage in the district.

"Our teams got into gear very quickly but this has been a bit of a wake up call (about emergency planning) for many people."

The Timaru District civil emergency system had worked well with local news media, particularly radio stations, playing a key role in keeping the public informed of developments, Ms Cooper said.

An emergency first response team and building inspectors had been sent north to the Selwyn District to assist where the damage was greater, she said.

Primeport Timaru chief executive Jeremy Boys said detailed inspections would be carried out today but early indications were that there was no damage to the port.

A Timaru District Council emergency first response team and building inspectors had been sent north to the Selwyn District, where the damage was worse, she said.

Timaru resident Frank Hamilton said he heard the earthquake approaching a few seconds before it struck.

"It sounded like a big truck load of rubbish bins coming down the road. It woke me up. We often hear heavy traffic to the north of us but this was coming the other way and then it hit."

Hamish McMillan, who lives in a rough-caste two-storied house in central Timaru, said it swayed vigorously but there was no damage. A small television set fell to the floor but, apart from that everything seemed to be intact, he said.

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