New Zealand falls silent in tribute to quake victims

February 22, 2012 10:44 am 

WELLINGTON, Feb. 22 — New Zealand came to a standstill for two minutes on Wednesday as the nation united to mark the first anniversary of the 6.3-magnitude earthquake that killed 185 people in the city of Christchurch.

The silent tribute from 12.51 p.m. followed commemorations across the country, with the biggest in Christchurch itself, where an estimated 20,000 people gathered in North Hagley Park for a moving civic memorial service.

Many people wept and others held hands of friends and families as emergency service workers read the names of all 185 victims at the service, which was broadcast live.

Hope and resilience were the theme of the day.

Christchurch Mayor Bob Parker said the city would never be the same again, but a "resurgence of strength and spirit" was returning to some areas.

Everyone has a responsibility to build a city "fit for the dreams of the ones we lost," said Parker.

"No city has ever been more strongly united in wanting to recover, rebuild and once more be a great place to live and work."

Earlier Wednesday, Prime Minister John Key said Feb. 22, 2011 was "a date that will go down in the history of New Zealand as one of our darkest days."

He told a gathering of victims' families and emergency services workers in the city's Latimer Square that Christchurch and the lives of so many people had changed forever that day.

"I shall never forget coming to Latimer Square in the hours after the Feb. 22 earthquake. People were huddled under blankets, sirens were blaring and dust was thick in the air. There were fires, helicopters with monsoon buckets hovering overhead, and amid all of this, aftershocks continued to shake the very ground that we stand on today," said Key.

"It was New Zealand — but it was a New Zealand I had never seen before."

He welcomed those who had come from abroad for the commemoration and told them they had the support of all New Zealanders.

"The thoughts and sympathies of our small nation are very much with you all today," said Key.

He said the government was committed to rebuilding "a Christchurch with a new future, a city that looks different, but carries a renewed vibrancy and energy."

"It will take time to recover from what was the fourth-largest earthquake insurance event experienced in the world. An earthquake so severe that in some places the vertical shaking was more than twice the force of gravity. But recover and rebuild, we will."

He said Feb. 22 would "forever be one of the darkest days in this proud nation's history."

"It will also be a day where in the worst of times, the best of human spirit was on display," said Key.

"That spirit is something that no earthquake can ever take away. "(PNA/Xinhua)

FPV/egr

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