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The almost 90-year-old wooden church was blown off its piles and left in a crumpled heap, then to be inundated by flooding from the nearby river.
Haast resident Helen Rasmussen said some items had been salvaged from the ruins on Saturday, including a whalebone font of significance to the Wilson family of Hunts Beach.
Mrs Rasmussen (nee Wilson) said her family had a long association with the church, which had seen many generations married and christened there.
"My great-grandchildren were the last to be christened at the church two years ago. We were planning on having the youngest christened there at Easter."
The font was made from the vertebrae of a whale that washed up in the area at the time her father and local runanga upoko (head) Bob Wilson died in 1991.
Robes and other church memorabilia were also rescued on Saturday.
"I don't know how well they will wash up but we'll see," Mrs Rasmussen said.
"The church is completely wrecked. It's moved about 8 to 10m and it's just squished on its side -- it's been completely taken off its piles."
The local Bruce Bay community had been planning to fix the piles as the next phase of an ongoing maintenance project, funded by the annual Bruce Bay Sports Day.
Bruce Bay Hall Board spokesman John Birchfield said the roof had been fixed about five years ago and the church had also been repainted.
"The next project was to re-pile it."
Brenda Monk, of Paringa, said the loss of the church was a "devastating blow" to the small community.
Built by the Anglicans as St Peter's Church, when that congregation dropped away, local Catholics took over the use of the church which they then called Our Lady of the River.
In recent years it has been incorporated into a tourism venture with three other South Westland churches in Hari Hari, Whataroa and Franz Josef, which together have a combined history of over 350 years.
Hokitika and South Westland vicar Rev Vivien Harber said it was to be known as the 'Pioneer Church Route' to offer ministry to tourists and others.
It was spurred by an increase in visitors, largely to the St James Church at Franz Josef, as well as the Jacobs River Church.
The church was built in 1931 on land donated by farmer R Ritchie with financial contributions from the local community, especially a £200 donation from the Henry and William Williams Memorial Trust.
- Janna Sherman, of the Hokitika Guardian