When Tess Prentice got tossed out of bed by the giant earthquake that destroyed her cliff-top family home, she thought it was the "end of the world".

Huddling with her parents, Dr Anthea and Snip Prentice, she began to sob as the violent tremors rolled on and on.

"It was like someone picked up the house and started shaking us," Anthea told the house.

They ended up running onto the lawn.


By the time the shaking stopped, their North Canterbury house was a wreck.

Its exterior and interior is both cracked and gaping. The front door hangs by a single screw. The chimney collapsed, the roof peers open. Shelves and cupboards were emptied.

The beautiful old home overlooking a Pacific Ocean that today glistens in the bright sunshine is ruined.

When police arrived at about 8am to check on them, they were tidying up broken glass and lost family heirlooms.

"All our treasures... things we have inherited from our parents... stuff you can't really replace," says Anthea.

As the ground still rolled with aftershocks, the police officers looked at the badly crevassed lawn that precariously rolls down to the crashing waves below and suggested they leave. Imminently.

They said they would, after they grabbed a few things.

But the Prentices knew they were lucky to not have rolled down the cliff into the sea.

"Plenty of people over the years have said, 'Oh that's close to the edge...' but I've always felt quite safe here," Anthea said.

"I am just glad that it wasn't too bad everywhere else."