Lyttelton, the pretty port village that proudly proclaims itself as the gateway to Christchurch, has been devastated by the 6.3 magnitude earthquake that struck New Zealand's second largest city just before 1pm on Tuesday.
Every second building on the town's main street has been severely damaged, with cordons closing off one block considered uninhabitable.
Several of the port town's picturesque buildings have collapsed in a pile of rubble, with its oldest churches among the casualties.
Building facades had fallen away, exposing the intimate insides of family homes, and in the hills above the main road, there are bare spots where houses once stood.
The on-the-ground assessment is the first one since a windy road into the seafarers' settlement was re-opened early on Wednesday morning. Main access through a road tunnel under the Port Hills was cut off after the quake and remains closed.
St John area commander Pete Dawson, a local, told AAP how devastating it was to see his town destroyed.
"Just look at it," he said, waving his arm down London Street. "It's a mess, totally destroyed.
"It's very difficult. We've lost so many of our best buildings and homes," said Dawson, himself now homeless.
The town had also lost two men, one elderly and another young. Dawson said they were walking on a mountain track when they were hit by falling rocks.
A few Australian tourists had been in to seek assistance, but they seemed "like happy chappies" and went on their way.
He said the town enjoyed great patronage from across the Tasman and he hoped that could continue.
"We'll rebuild. Of course, we will. We're resilient people, we're Cantabrians, you know. And we've got a World Cup to look forward to," he said with a laugh.
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