Crucial investment in earthquake strengthening has saved some of Christchurch's most important older buildings but the city's heritage had still suffered a terrible blow.
Christchurch's iconic Anglican Cathedral in Cathedral Square and the Catholic Basilica in Barbadoes Street escaped relatively unscathed as did the landmark The Press building.
But many of Christchurch's and Canterbury's character commercial buildings, which many regard as giving the city its soul, were badly hit and many of the region's smaller historic churches and grandest old homes have been devastated.
The historic Hororata and Home Bush homesteads in inland Canterbury, Ohinetahi homestead at Governor's Bay and Godley House, at Diamond Harbour were severely damaged.
Former Christchurch City councillor and current member of the Historic Places Trust Board Anna Crighton said the earthquake had been ''unbelievably destructive''.
''What broke my heart was to see the facade of the 1882 Oxford Terrace Baptist church, the pedament and tableture, just split like paper and I can't see how that is going to be restored.''
Falling chimneys had done a lot of damage, she said.
''I worry for the heritage of the city because the whole character of the city and the what is Christcurch is articulated by those lovely little buildings as well as the big ones,'' she said.
City council environmental policy and approval manager Steve McCarthy said he needed more information before he could give a detailed picture of the destruction but at least 125 commerical buildings in the city had ''serious to semi-serious'' damaged.
No buildings had been condemned but six in the inner city were regarded as unsafe.
''A large number of heritage buildings have suffered a variety of damage. We don't want anyone taking any preemptive action because they think a building is unsafe. What we want to do is protect those buildings as much as we can. We've told people not to pull anything down even if it's only a character building.''
A team of engineers would assess the buildings today, he said.
The very Reverend Peter Beck, Dean of Christchurch, said the Cathedral had fared remarkably well.
''My thanks go to council for all that earthquake strengthening work. Without that we would have had major damage.''
The nave was undamaged but the cathedral's tower would need more investigation and the bells would not ring on Sunday, he said.
Services at the Cathedral for today are cancelled because of concerns about an aftershock.
Monsigneur Charles Brennan said the damage to the Catholic basilica could have been a lot worse.
''There's considerable window pane damage but thankfully not the stained glass.''
Mortar and plaster had broken free but the ceiling of the nave seemed to be untouched. New cracks had appeared and these would have to be assessed before the Cathedral could open, he said.
The Arts Centre director Ken Franklin said he expected to find a pile of rubble when he turned up at 5am but the damage was still extensive and would ''take a long time to address'' and be very expensive to fix.
Collapsed chimneys had damaged the Great Hall, the clock tower and the observatory. ''We've lost quite a significant filial piece of the northern gable and unfortunately the tower on the south-western corner has shifted substantially and I'm concerned that's quite vulnerable.
''The stuff where we have done earthquake strengthening has definitely held up better than the others,'' he said.
One of the Canterbury oldest buildings, the Timeball Station built in Lyttelton in 1876, which was strengthened about five years ago, survived reasonably intact although a large section of chimney smashed through part of the roof. Some water damage was caused when the sprinklers went off.
Timeball Station's property manager Jan Titus said the damage was a tragedy. Most of the work to bring the station up to a prime condition had almost been finished.
''It's a big step backwards,'' she said in tears.
Structural engineer Grant Wilkinson, the managing director of Ruomoko Solutions, said most of the heritage buildings performed much as expected.
Old unstrengthened brick and stone buildings were most seriously damaged, he said.
''It certainly lends weight to the council's earthquake strengthing policy,'' he said.
The destruction to the 130-year-old Godley House in Diamond Harbour shocked its leaseholders Richard and Michelle Hawes.
Hawes said he thought he was going to die in the quake, so strongly did it shake his stone and brick unstrengthed building.
''The whole building was like a jelly,'' he said.
Some of the worst damage was around the bedroom in which he and his wife Michelle sleep. A complete window was dislodged and part of a brick wall luckily fell away from them.
The bar, accommodation areas and restaurant were a bombsite yesterday and Hawes, a builder before becoming a hotelier, said it would cost millions to repair the building.
''We're shattered mate. This is our livelihood, all our life's savings.''
Renowned New Zealand architect Sir Miles Warren was yesterday wondering if he could ever restore his beloved Ohinetahi homestead to its pre-earthquake conditions.
The quake collapsed four upper gables and sent stones crashing onto the building.
''It was such a tremendous noise, Sir Miles said, as he stepped over the grandfather clock which nearly tripped him up earlier in the morning.''
The important seaward facing part of the homestead was badly fractured and walls and pillars in the famous garden were toppled.
- The Press