Nothing was going to stop Geoff Hadfield going in to get his wife Natasha as her body lay trapped alongside a dead customer in their earthquake-devastated shop.

Mr Hadfield was out doing deliveries for the couple's business Wick's Fish when last week's 6.3 magnitude quake hit Christchurch.

He arrived back at the shop in the Christchurch suburb of Linwood a few minutes later to find it had collapsed.

His wife, known as Nat, had been working inside at the counter.

An off-duty police officer was trying to stop people going into the devastated shopping block that housed Mr Hadfield's business.

But Mr Hadfield said: "There was no one stopping me".

"Everyone was too scared to go in," he told the Herald.

"But I went in and started working my way through. Next thing, I had all my neighbours helping."

Wick's Fish employee Jason Gibb was working out the back of the shop preparing some salmon for smoking when the quake hit.

"Next thing, there was a bang and everything just went berserk. The room just filled with dust."

Mr Gibb tried to get through to the front of the shop but was blocked by bricks that had caved in from the building next door.

"I'm calling out for Nat and there was no answer. At this stage, people are outside the shop calling in, and I'm calling back that Nat's in the shop."

Mr Gibb took a different route around to the front, and Mr Hadfield pulled up, asking him where his wife was.

"And I said: 'she's in there'. So he goes in and he's pulling stuff out as fast as he can."

When they reached Mrs Hadfield, 38, they also found the elderly woman customer lying nearby. There was no sign of life from either.

"It looked as though Nat was able to run around the counter towards the door but she had only got about halfway," Mr Gibb said.

Mr Hadfield said their 23-month-old son was doing well in the circumstances. He described his wife as a "fantastic, loving mum, who absolutely doted over her little boy".

"She was a beautiful, well-respected woman that's going to be sadly missed inside and outside the industry she worked in," Mr Hadfield said.

Wayne Wicksteed, who used to own Wick's Fish and employed Mrs Hadfield for about nine years, said she was like a daughter to him.

"She was wonderful. She had a great work ethic.

"Everything about her was spot on - she was hard-working, honest, reliable."

A memorial website has been set up at http://wicksfish.tumblr.com.

Gulshan Huk, who owns nearby shop Spice Heaven, said Mrs Hadfield was well liked and respected.

Mrs Huk, whose husband has a spice-making business near AMI Stadium, says the earthquake has left her torn. The family came to New Zealand after the 2000 coup in Fiji and she has grown to love Canterbury.

"My husband has had enough. He doesn't want to stay but I am thinking of my kids, some who have kids themselves.

"I don't want to leave them, I have a business here and I want to see Christchurch rebuild."