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A year on: Christchurch remembers earthquake victims

The 185 people who perished in the quake were remembered at memorial services and community events across the country today.

Image: Nick Perry/AP/Press Association Images

NEW ZEALAND IS marking the first anniversary of the massive earthquake which devastated the city of Christchurch on this day last year.

Families gathered at Latimer Square for an emotional memorial service to remember the 185 people who died in the quake. They then visited the CTV  Building site where 115 people lost their lives.

Cathedral Square, which was decimated in the quake, was also visited by the families so they could pay tributes to their loved ones. The families of the 28 Japanese students who died in the quake also attended the service.

Two Irish men – 41-year-0ld nurse Eoin McKenna and 40-year-old Kerry man JJ O’Connor – were killed in the quake.

More than 20,000 people later filled North Hagley Park to honour the deceased. According to the New Zealand Herald, the reading of the names of the victims was followed by a two-minute silence and the release of 185 monarch butterflies.

A day “heavy with emotion and loss” is how the anniversary was described by city mayor Bob Parker. Prime Minister John Key also recognised the “pain and sorrow” the earthquake caused the city.

He said it would be remembered as New Zealand’s “darkest day”.

People were huddled under blankets, sirens were blaring. There were fires, helicopters with monsoon buckets hovering overhead and among all of this, aftershocks continued to shake the very ground we stand on today. It was New Zealand, but it was a New Zealand I had never seen before.

A year on: Christchurch remembers earthquake victims
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The 6.3 magnitude earthquake hit at 12.51pm on Tuesday, 22 February 2011. It was the deadliest natural disaster recorded in New Zealand since a 1931 earthquake.

Heroes of the quake, including rescuers first at the scene, were honoured in a special ceremony with 136 people given awards for service and bravery, reports TVNZ.

The people of Christchurch were also awarded the Royal Humane Society of New Zealand’s Gold Medal.

Prime Minister Key, finishing his speech on an optimistic note, said that the “great city” could “dream” and the Government was committed to the rebuild.

However, signs of the day remain scattered through the city. The quake destroyed thousands of homes and buildings, causing NZ$30 billion worth of damage.

Hundreds of the 1,400 wrecked buildings are still waiting demolition so reconstruction can begin.

“There are many unknowns, there are questions still to be answered, suburbs to be rebuilt and a city to be rebuilt,” Parker said. Bitter disagreements about the location of certain key structures, including the sports stadium and library, are yet to be resolved.

Despite the concerns, residents and businesses have so far remained in the city in numbers that have surprised many. When Statistics New Zealand measured the population of Christchurch four months after the earthquake, it found the population had declined by just 2.4 percent, to 368,000, despite the loss of more than 5,000 homes.

Flowers have been placed on every traffic cone in the city to remember the victims of the quake. Picture from @debworkprogress on Twitter.

-Additional reporting by AP

More: Christchurch remains a ‘safe haven’, a year after 6.1-magnitude quake>

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