At the epicenter of the earthquake, they watch helicopters destined for elsewhere video

The damaged road at the epicentre of the 7.8 earthquake.
ANNABEL HARRIS/FACEBOOK

The damaged road at the epicentre of the 7.8 earthquake.

At the epicentre of this week's devastating earthquake, they listened to rescue helicopters whirring overhead, destined for somewhere else.

Waiau, population 280, is slowly returning to normality following the 7.8 magnitude earthquake that struck five kilometres away.

On the first night about a quarter of the population slept at the school, some on mattresses and others in cars, while they waited to see if they still had homes.

STACY SQUIRES/FAIRFAX NZ.

The 106 year old Waiau Pub was severely damaged by last night's 7.5 magnitude quake, with some saying its beyond repair.

At least one homeless family remains. The others had left by Thursday, returning to their houses to sift through shattered belongings and consider the future.

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It has been a savage blow to the historic town, which took 150 years to build and one minute to damage irreversibly.

The Waiau lodge has been severely damaged.
MATIAS DELACROIX/GETTY IMAGES

The Waiau lodge has been severely damaged.

The century-old pub is almost certainly a write-off and a stone tower at the historic church has cracked.

Tombstones at the cemetery were broken into concrete shards and Cob Cottage, the museum that holds the town's artifacts, has been damaged.

Waiau was now reckoning with what it had lost, while trying to return to normality.

The Amuri All Saints Church in Waiau suffered a severely damaged tower
STACY SQUIRES/FAIRFAX NZ

The Amuri All Saints Church in Waiau suffered a severely damaged tower

"Most people seem to be getting back towards their houses... they're picking their things up, putting them back on shelves and moving on with life," chief fire officer Hugh Wells said.

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"I don't think you'd ever go back to what was normal beforehand."

Civil Defence took over the recovery effort on Thursday. Power had been restored to most of the township and those still in their homes had water.

NICOLE MATHEWSON/Stuff.co.nz

Cracks in the road between Rotherham and Waiau in North Canterbury

The recovery effort had at times been frustrating, Wells said.

Attempts by the local fire service to make emergency roads had been thwarted by outsiders, with some basic decisions taken out of their hands.

"I get frustrated and annoyed that people a long way away are hindering work that could be done.

"It's easy to sit in your office miles away and say this sort of thing, but if you don't know the area and what could happen, it's a little bit frustrating."

It has been a bitter pill to swallow for the community already struggling through a drought — a disaster within a disaster.

Farmers near Waiau waved desperately at helicopters headed for Kaikoura, hoping they would stop.

Most had since been reached by Federated Farmers.

Brenda's on Lyndon, the local tea room, was back in business despite losing thousands of dollars worth of stock, trying to re-establish a routine.

"We'll keep doing what we do," owner Brenda Smith said.

It was hard not to feel forgotten as helicopters headed for Kaikoura, considering that Waiau was at the centre of it all.

"I feel Waiau was a bit left out. 

"Even when it was first reported it was so many [kilometres] from Culverden, so many [kilometres] from Hanmer. I get it, we're all hurting and Kaikoura is isolated... but yeah."

 - Stuff

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