NZ Quake: He sat in the dark with her body in his arms

SITTING in the darkness of his broken mountain home, aftershocks rumbling through and his partner's body in his arms, Gary Morton had never felt so alone.

He couldn't bring Jo-Anne Mackinnon back. She had died in the 7.8 magnitude earthquake that walloped the South Island's northeast just after midnight on Monday.

Morton wants to do one last thing for the woman he shared his life with before tragedy struck their Mt Lyford log cabin home, in the mountains 140km north of Christchurch.

He wants to return the 55-year-old to the place she came into the world.

For that, he needs help.

"She was born in Kaikoura and has a family plot there," he told the Weekend Herald .

"But [we] cannot get her there because of [damaged] roads ... we've got big 4WDs for the people. It's just the casket.

"It's just too impersonal to have a casket banging around in the back of the ute ... it's a wee bit too Kiwi."

Roads into Kaikoura have been closed since the quake and the large aftershocks, although attempts are being made to clear an inland route to the seaside tourist town.

Morton was hoping a helicopter could fly the mother-of-two's body to Kaikoura on Wednesday to be buried alongside her grandparents in the family plot.

Mackinnon's funeral will take place at St Peter's Catholic Church in Christchurch on Tuesday afternoon.

Morton said family could probably raise the money to pay for the helicopter, but he was worried companies might be too stretched helping with the quake relief effort to fly Mackinnon's body north.

"It's the getting somebody who's free. They are all so bloody busy."

Morton didn't want to share his memories of Mackinnon before her funeral, but friends wrote online of a woman "full of energy, humour and compassion".

Donna Charles wrote about her "Absolutely Fabulous friend".

"This was not the way it was meant to be, and I will miss you so much."

Morton said the couple ran for the door when the quake struck.

"I could feel her hitting my back. Then some bolts holding the log cabin down broke and the cabin moved very sharply and we both hit the ground hard.

"I have lots of cuts but that's all. I could not find her and was yelling out with no reply."

He went to his car and turned the headlights on.

"I put the lights on the doorway and there she was."

With no power or phone, and few permanent residents in the village, Morton sought help at Mt Lyford Lodge 500m away.

Staff were helping guests so a tourist went back to the cabin with him, Morton said. They attempted CPR, but Mackinnon was gone.

It was 14 hours before a helicopter arrived to take Mackinnon's body to Christchurch. Morton stayed by her side the whole time.

The hours before dawn were hard.

"It was terrible ... I've never, ever felt so helpless and alone in my life. It was pitch dark, the house was gone, it was still shaking and she was dead in my arms."

A preliminary report from the coroner indicated the cause of death was unknown, with full findings expected in eight weeks, he said.

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