New Zealand stops to remember

KEVIN NORQUAY
Last updated 17:12 22/02/2012
Karl Drury

The moment that changed our nation forever, we remember those who died in last February's earthquake.

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One by one the names of the 185 people killed in the Christchurch quake have slowly been read out, as the city recalls the tragic cost of February 22, 2011.

After the prayers at the Civil Memorial Service in Hagley Park, and before two minutes silence at 12.51pm, came the names.

Names of New Zealanders, Japanese, Chinese, Israeli, Canadians and more were read out, as members of the 20,000-strong crowd locked arms and stood with their heads bowed.

It was stark a reminder that the quake spread its sorrow far and wide, and that while Christchurch would rebuild from its darkest day, there were those who were no longer with us.

"From all corners of the world, with all our creeds, with all our similarities and differences, we remember them," a prayer intoned, after Prime Minister John Key read from the bible.

Mayor Bob Parker said there had been a resurgence of strength and spirit within a community that was learning a new way to do things.

"No city has ever been more strongly united. This is a year like no other we have ever experienced," he told the masses.

But while looking forward to the city's future, he also took time to look back, and reflect on what the victims' families were going through.

"This day above all days must be a heavy, hard day for you. There must be pain, there must be many thoughts that cannot really understand or share, but we are all here with you and for you today."

As well as being a day for Christchurch, it was also a day for New Zealand to reflect. The crowd stood for an emotional rendition of the national anthem, flags flew at half-mast.

Hundreds of people also gathered in City Mall to observe two minutes silence.

The town crier stood before a plaque commemorating  the dead and rang his bell to signal the beginning of silence.
Afterwards family, friends laid flowers before the plaque.

Many people said they had come to the mall because they felt unable to handle the main memorial event in Hagley Park.

Four people died in City Mall on February 22 and many others were badly injured.

The buildings that collapsed have now been demolished and replaced with the Restart temporary shopping precinct.

Parker earlier admitted he was a "bucket of emotion", and recalled one of his "most poignant" memories for Japanese media.

He told them about watching Japanese urban search and rescue workers marching down the street to the CTV building and how, when they found a body, they would form a prayer circle.

He recalled seeing them blackened from the building, with ripped overalls and covered in dust marching "with great dignity" back to their camp.

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"We remember their courage and the loss of those beautiful young souls from Japan."

Parker said the city had made "extraordinary" progress in the past year considering the "massive scale" of damage.

He was optimistic about the next 12 months, as there was an exciting opportunity to build a city which reflected the needs and values of the 21st century.

A peace bell was rung by former CTV-based student to remember classmates lost in the collapsed building, which claimed 115 lives.

Mayumi Asakawa, who attended the King's Education language college, returned to Christchurch from Japan for the ceremony in the botanic gardens.

She had been out at lunch when the February 22 quake struck.

About 100 people including dignitaries from China, Israel and the United States attended the ceremony in the gardens.

A new garden and gold angel sculpture was also unveiled in memory of the 185 people who died.

People were invited to hang messages on a nearby "wish tree".

One said: "I wish we will all continue to help each other".

At the end of the ceremony people threw flowers into the Avon River.

A sombre and reflective memorial service at Latimer Square opened the day's formalities.

There, Prime Minister John Key said the Government was committed to rebuilding this "great city".

Key thanked those who helped in the aftermath of the earthquake, among them St John Ambulance, the police and urban search and rescue teams.

Latimer Square was a focal point of the quake recovery, with survivors evacuated there for treatment.

The Canterbury Television building, where 115 people died, oversaw the square, until it was bent and crumbled by the massive forces unleashed by the quake.

The earthquake also shook New Zealand to its core, Key told the ceremony.

"Worst of all it stole 185 loved ones from us and injured so many more," he said.

Parker said everyone had thought Christchurch was on the road to recovery after the September 2010 quake.

''Everything changed. Everything changed; it will never be the same again.''

The special service opened with a Maori greeting. Henare Rakiiha Tau said people had to seek strength from God and their ancestors.

All shared the grief of the families he said, with their tears ''our tears'' and their grief  ''your grief''.

The end of the service was marked by a series of videos in which Christchurch residents talked about their hopes for the future and the release of 185 monarch butterflies.

After the service, families were escorted behind the cordon to the Canterbury Television Building site, the PGC building - where 18 died - and Cathedral Square, where the once beautiful Christchurch Cathedral was now in ruins.

- Stuff

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