Power is out and phone lines are down but the potted information coming into Cheviot police and fire is that it has received widespread damage.
Entry to the town has been closed after the violent shaking ripped open the roads.
The Waiau river bridge has been badly damaged, with reports it has sunk as much as 400mm.
Residents have had to walk across one of the township's bridge to reach help.
A woman said a friend had posted on Facebook rural residents had gone over the damage structure in the dark to make it to the evacuation centre.
"They managed to drive to the Waiau bridge but they had to walk over the Waiau bridge because it's not in a very good way. Most of the residents are at the school."
A community refuge area has been set up at the local tennis courts.
Elsewhere damage has also been reported in Cheviot and Wellington.
The largest shake hit just after 12am and has been upgraded to 7.5 magnitude and ongoing aftershocks, many over magnitude 5, are being felt.
Waves of up to 2m have already begun to roll in near Kaikoura and Civil Defence are warning bigger ones of up to 5m could hit the East Coast of both Islands.
Residents in low lying areas should head for higher ground.
While there are no reports of any fatalities a man has been injured after his car rolled when it struck a strip of quake-damaged road in North Canterbury.
The man's car hit the "big hole in the road" about 20km from Cheviot.
He was taken to Cheviot township, which has no power, where St John is treating his minor injuries.
Kiwirail has stopped all services on the Main Trunk Line south of Palmerston North, and in the South Island.
Ferry sailings have been cancelled as well, while a full assessment is done of the terminals in Wellington and Picton.
Kiwirail says it's had no reports of injuries.
Hurunui District deputy mayor Marie Black said there was reports of damage throughout the region.
She was woken by the quake, and said it was "very unnerving".
"We live about halfway between Hanmer Springs and Christchurch and it was a significant shake, I have felt several aftershocks and it is very unnerving."
There had been reports from local residents that buildings were damaged and water tanks had been shaken loose, she said.
She said State Highway 7, that runs from Waipara on the east coast through to Greymouth on the west, was closed due to damage to the roads.
Journalist Steve Braunias was in Wellington when he felt the quake.
"It began very slowly...the bed seemed to be twitching and it very quickly built."
He was on the seventh floor of the Comfort Hotel on Cuba St.
"It was terrifying. I thought I was going to die. It was swaying side to side."
He took cover under a piece of furniture.
The swaying seemed to last for 70 to 80 seconds, he said.