• 7.5 quake strikes at 12.02am not far from Hanmer Springs in North Canterbury in the South Island - country still being hit, with more than 100 aftershocks so far
• At least two people have been killed amid reports of many other casualties - one victim suffered a heart attack, another was killed in a historic homestead in Canterbury
• Residents flee homes in the wake of tsunami threat - police now investigating three cases in which vacant houses were ransacked by burglars
• Kaikoura and other South Island towns have been essentially cut off, with the famous SH1 road and rail tunnels blocked by slips
• A massive slip has also closed SH70 to Waiau in north Canterbury
• Wellington is also badly hit, with damage to buildings and roads - people are being told to avoid the Capital CBD
• The 111 service is experiencing delays in worst-hit areas
• The cost of the quake is expected to be hundreds of millions of dollars
• Schools from North Canterbury to Wellington told to remain shut until damage can be assessed
• Students sitting NCEA exams face disruption, delays - scholarship exams called off today
• Tsunami warnings for entire east coast of New Zealand have been lifted but people living on the coast are being warned to stay away from beaches and shoreline
• Fire Service sending 7-strong urban search and rescue squad from Christchurch to Kaikoura
• Prime Minister John Key says military helicopters being made available and Cabinet will meet this morning
• Key says communications have been difficult and full assessment of damage, casualties still being conducted
• St John receiving reports of injuries around Culverden and Kaikoura - paramedics being sent in by helicopter
• Power is back on in Kaikoura and Hamner Springs
• The Defence Force has sent HMNZ's Canterbury to pick up people from Kaikoura who need to get to safety
• NZTA says roads and some main highways are closed
UPDATED 9:43 PM
Power is back on in Kaikoura but fuel and water supplies are running low and roads in and out of the town remain closed tonight.
Police said there was about three days' supply of water in the town.
Another 10 officers are being flown in from other parts of the country.
The marae was housing 600 people overnight and the hospital was at capacity at 8pm, police said.
Between 600 and 1000 tourists would stay in the town overnight. Some tourists were flown out of the town by chopper earlier today
Another “severe” aftershock has rattled the country.
GeoNet said a 5.6 magnitude quake has hit, 23km deep, 20km to the east of Seddon.
Earlier today two aftershocks were recorded just after 1.30pm.
A magnitude 6.3 aftershock has struck 30km north of Cheviot. The aftershock was 50km deep.
A magnitude 5.7 aftershock has also struck 20km east of Seddon. It was 20km deep.
The Kaikoura District Council has declared a local state of emergency following the 7.5 magnitude earthquake this morning.
The tsunami risk was lifted earlier this morning, but Civil Defence warned locals to stay away from the coast as a precaution.
Kaikoura Spark customers should now have limited cellphone coverage.
Civil Defence advised Spark users to call and text rather than using data.
Part of the Clarence River was blocked by a landslide near Dart’s Stream. Police were alerting local residents to the slip to ensure their safety.
Civil Defence is continuing to evacuate the areas surrounding the Clarence River area tonight. Residents, along with group of rafters who were rescued earlier today and around 20 Marlborough tourists, are being taken to Blenheim.
There was extensive damage to SH1 north and south of Kaikoura.
Transport Agency workers have been able to re-establish a road link between Picton and Christchurch.
An alternative inland route has been opened, via the Murchison and Lewis passes but travel will take several hours more than usual.
Kaikoura is still cut off and the Transport Agency is working to open the inland road between Culverden and Kaikoura, but say it will take several days.
State Highway One between Seddon and Cheviot is still closed and it may be weeks until its reopened.
Civil Defence has lifted the remaining tsunami warning that had been in place for Wellington to Banks Peninsula.
However it says coasts may still experience unusual, strong currents and sea level fluctuations lasting for several more hours.
It's urging people to stay aware in and around coastal waters.
Civil Defence is also cautioning people to be aware of more aftershocks and to 'Drop, Cover and Hold'.
This morning's earthquake was the largest recorded since 2009 - more powerful than the one that struck Christchurch in 2011.
The last one of this size was the Dusky Sound earthquake, which was recorded as a magnitude 7.8.
But Geonet says this earthquake was far more damaging and more widely felt.
It's putting it down to the fact two earthquakes occurred at the same time - the combination reaching the severity of magnitude 7.5 and lasting for two minutes.
Geonet says one of the earthquakes was a strike-slip and the other a thrust fault - which was why people are saying it felt different to anything they've experienced before.
That's also why it was felt right throughout the country.
At least two people have died and several others have suffered non-fatal heart attacks and minor injuries following the 7.5 magnitude earthquake this morning.
Emergency services have confirmed one death at the Elms Homestead in Kaikoura. Three people live at the historic home.
A 100-year-old woman and her daughter were rescued from the rubble of the historic homestead, while their son and husband tragically did not make it.
The Elms Homestead in Kaikoura collapsed following the magnitude 7.5 earthquake at 12.02am, and rescuers spent hours searching for the three residents.
A Fire Service spokesman said one of the woman was able to escape the large home themselves, while the other was rescued. The man did not survive.
Well-known locals Pam and Louis Edgar live at the property with Louis’ 100-year-old mother, Margaret.
The women have “lost everything,” said a relative.
Relatives are desperately trying to get into Kaikoura which has been cut off by large slips blocking the only access roads.
Helicopters are currently being used to evacuate people from the coastal settlement, which still has no power.
A second person has died of a heart attack at a property in Mt Lyford and there are reports of several people suffering non-fatal heart attacks in the hours following the main quake.
The woman who died in Mt Lyford is the the partner of local Mt Lyford identity Gary “Tex” Morton, reports say. She is a distant relative of Sir Peter Leitch.
In a video posted to Facebook from his trip to England with the Kiwis, Sir Peter said the person was a “distant relative”.
“So we know there’s going to be some losses. We’re here in Manchester but we’re thinking of you all. So on behalf of the New Zealand Kiwis and New Zealand rugby league we send you our love and or good wishes and hope we all get through it.”
St John has activated its National Crisis Coordination Centre and has set up local Emergency Operation Centres in the South Island. A spokeswoman said St John staff, resources and emergency equipment have been relocated to higher ground, and resource is being moved to affected areas in order to maintain response capability. Casualty numbers and injury numbers are unknown at this stage.
The tsunami warnings for New Zealand's east coast have been lifted, but people are being warned to stay away from beaches and shores.
Speaking from the Beehive's civil defence bunker, Prime Minister John Key said all 16 regions had activated civil defence requirements.
Key said it was important for people to keep following safety advice.
He said New Zealand was in "great shape" to meet any costs from the quakes, but expected there would be significant repairs needed. He also confirm the two deaths.
Acting Civil Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee said the pressing need was to get communications gear in to cut off areas and that would be the first task for the helicopters.
Parliament's a haven this morning. Quake evictees taking shelter pic.twitter.com/EDp7vZ2c3C— Felix Marwick (@felixmarwick) November 13, 2016
While there had been reports of items falling from shelves, some cracks in buildings and smashed windows in Wellington the true extent of property damage is being revealed as emergency service workers begin assess infrastructure and homes in the light of day.
"We've had a request from the Leader of the Opposition's office for Andrew Little to come with us. I think it's totally appropriate, it's not a political issue, we just want to give support and solidarity to the people who are deeply affected," Key said.
Pictures are coming in of large slips and badly damaged roads in the Hurunui District. The small North Canterbury town Waiau, where a bridge has been badly damaged, is shut off.
Kaikoura has also been cut off but reports of bad damage are hard to substantiate due to power cuts, blocked roads and a congested mobile network. Military helicopters would be going there to assess damage and make contact.
The Fire Service is also sending a seven-strong Urban Search And Rescue squad from Christchurch by helicopter.
Assessment teams are also being sent to Waiau and Blenheim.
Acting Civil Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee briefs media on quakes pic.twitter.com/esAxJVY1vz— Felix Marwick (@felixmarwick) November 13, 2016
In Wellington the TSB Arena and BNZ Centre have sustained the most damage. There is damage to wharves and the Inter Islander terminal, and the Tory Channel remained closed.
Shipping workers were forced to flee the Kings Wharf freight shipping terminal in Wellington, after cracks began appearing and water spurting from beneath them.
"It was just panic stations," said the man who did not wish to be named.
"Water was coming up from the wharf, we had about five seconds to evacuate."
The man said he and seven of his colleagues all ran out together, and huddled to protect themselves in case glass or debris fell from nearby buildings.
In Marlborough, emergency services are bracing themselves for an influx of calls as people see the extent of the damage.
Rural fire chief Richard McNamara said there was a number of vehicles stuck on State Highway 1, and a helicopter was waiting to survey the road in daylight.
"There will be a few people spending the night in their cars, I would say."
He urged people not to travel unless it was urgent, because there was already congestion.
"There has been significant tidal movement in Picton and the [Marlborough] Sounds."
McNamara said welfare centres in Rarangi and Waikawa were sheltering about 100 people, including residents of a rest home.
Buildings have reportedly fallen in Bleheim.
"Fire crews are roving the towns and CBD of Blenheim since the earthquake assisting where they need to and will continue that throughout he day."
The small North Canterbury township of Waiau is feared to be worst hit following the 7.5 magnitude earthquake in the early hours of this morning.
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.
A state of emergency has been issued for the Hurunui District following the 7.5 magnitude earthquake.
This was declared by Mayor Winton Dalley at midday today.
Hard hit towns in the area include Waiau, Seddon and Cheviot.
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.
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.
"It just sort of died down and I went to the window to see if the city was in ruins, but it was actually reassuring - I could see all these people turning lights on."
Photos show damaged walls, upturned shelves following magnitude-7.8 earthquake in New Zealand pic.twitter.com/NWNDQ37mkq— BreakinNewz (@BreakinNewz01) November 13, 2016
Outside the hotel, other guests and residents had left buildings and were planning to leave Wellington.
There have been "heaps" of aftershocks, he said.
"There is a lot of very frightened people."
In Wellington's city centre glass has fallen from buildings, items have smashed to the ground in homes and businesses.
Large numbers of people are evacuating from the city.
In Cheviot local fire chief Grant Burnett said some chimneys and water tanks have come down.
Cheviot councillor Vince Daly said daylight will reveal the true extent of the damage.
He had not received any reports of major damage, except for fallen water tanks.
He feared the shaking could have damaged the area's water pipes.
People have reported feeling the quakes as far north as Auckland.
People dealing with quake-damaged properties are being urged to document the damage before cleaning it up.
Insurance and Financial Services Ombudsman Karen Stevens says photographic proof will help avoid problems with the EQC in the future.
"If somebody hasn't got any sort of photographic evidence of what's been done they really haven't got any way of proving that they actually have a valid claim."
A spokesman for EQC said 630 claims had been submitted online by 5pm, but numbers from the organisation's contact centre were unavailable.
The Insurance Council of New Zealand said it was too early to tell how many claims had been lodged because communications were still down and many residents were still struggling to meet their basic needs for adequate shelter, food and water.
However, a spokeswoman for the council said it was encouraging people to notify both EQC and their insurer about any property damage.
The Earthquake Commission says people with property damaged by the last night's quake have three months to make their claims.
EQC also called for people to take photos of the damage before cleaning up, and keep copies of any bills paid for repairs.
Ian Simpson, EQC chief executive said people don't need to rush to claim - they should be taking care of themselves and their families first.
• Wellington - Houghton Valley School near the south coast is open now; Biz Dojo on 115 Tory Street is open for people in the Wellington CBD
• Christchurch - Linwood College at 85 Aldwins Rd has been set up as an evacuation point for those in the eastern suburbs of Christchurch. The city council says it will be open from 4am. Amberley Pavilion is also open as an evacuation centre.
• Marlborough - Marlborough District Council says welfare centres are open at Tuamarina Hall and Giesen Centre Renwick.
• Leithfield School in rural North Canterbury is filling with families seeking refuge
• Selwyn district - Evacuation centre is at Southbridge Hall
• Seddon - People are taking shelter at Seddon School
A list of civil defence groups and locations can be found here.