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Monday, February 28, 2011

Two Minutes' Silence


Search and rescue workers in quake-torn Christchurch downed their tools and joined the rest of New Zealand in standing in silence for two minutes as a mark of respect for those who died in the earthquake.

The silence began at 12.51pm, one week after the 6.3 magnitude quake struck. Church bells throughout the country tolled before fading away before the silent tribute.

As rain clouds gathered, hundreds of Wellingtonians gathered in Civic Square.

Tearful mourners hugged each other during the sombre silence. Minutes later, heavy rain fell across the city.

Prime Minister John Key, who had called for the national period of silence, marked it at the Christchurch Arts Centre where he stood beside his wife Bronagh, and Christchurch Mayor Bob Parker.

In Australia, Parliament also observed silence for the quake victims.

The death toll from the quake is likely to be around 240, police said today. The confirmed number of dead rose to 154 overnight.

The silence across the nation, including in some of the country's busiest workplaces, was a sign of unity for the people of Christchurch and respect for those who lost their lives.

For 10 minutes after the silence, the Wellington Cathedral of St Paul near Parliament rang its bells in a half-muffled peal to acknowledge those who lost their lives.

People gathered on the lawn and forecourt of Parliament at 12.30pm to join Governor-General Sir Anand Satyanand and Lady Satyanand, Deputy Prime Minister Bill English, church and faith representatives, MPs and overseas diplomats.

The two minutes was marked during an ecumenical service at Auckland's Anglican Cathedral, attended by leaders of city churches, Mayor Len Brown and local MPs.

Emotions ran high in Hamilton, where the silence was broken by the sobs of a weeping woman among the crowd at the Cathedral Church of St Peter.

In Dunedin, thousands turned out to pay their respects.

In a moving tribute, Mayor Dave Cull sent a message of support to "Christchurch, our big sister up the line''.

Earlier, Fire Service spokesman Russell Wood said the silence would be tough on the Christchurch rescue workers.

"It will be an emotional time for many of our workers who have been out there non-stop doing real hard graft," he said.

"For some it's been a while since they've had that tangible reward of bringing out a live person so they'll be feeling it."

Mr Parker said the silence, which was followed by an Anglican church prayer, was a poignant moment for Christchurch and all of New Zealand.

He said the silence was about everyone "standing together", regardless of where they were.

"The two-minute silence at 12.51pm is really about whatever you are doing, stop ... and we all stand together as one," he said.

DEATH TOLL RISES

Canterbury area commander Superintendent Dave Cliff said the number of missing people was still fluctuating, but the total of those dead and missing was solidifying around the 240 figure.

"I think we need to start considering that the figure of around 240, but not locked in stone because we are still getting information in which is taking people off the list and sometimes adding others on..." he told reporters this morning.

The confirmed number of dead rose to 154 today. Mr Cliff said three bodies were retrieved from the Pyne Gould Corporation building overnight.

Meanwhile, the brother of missing CTV presenter Donna Manning thanked supporters and said that a fund-raising trust had been set up for her children.

Manning is believed to be trapped in the CTV building and her brother Maurice Gardiner today said the family is "holding on to hope that she will be returned to us".

"Our hearts go out to all of Christchurch, especially those who, like us, are still waiting for news of loved ones.

"While we wait, we pray for strength, especially for our parents and Donna's children, Elizabeth and Kent Manning."

People can make a donation to the Elizabeth and Kent Manning Trust at any Kiwibank.

Police efforts to identify the dead have been bolstered today by the arrival of a four-member victim identification team from Queensland.

Superintendent Russell Gibson said there were now more than 170 people involved in the painstaking operation to correctly identify bodies.

Many of the dead have been so badly injured that visual recognition by relatives alone is deemed too risky to ensure a correct identification.

DNA, fingerprints and other methods are being used to limit the chances of mistaken identities.

Meanwhile, the New South Wales Government has pledged $A1 million ($NZ1.3m) for the victims of the quake.

The cost of the recovery is estimated at $20 billion and the Government says the money will be found.

Finance Minister Bill English this morning said there were provisions for $19b of the cost, but the shortfall would be met.

He said Government spending would have to be "significantly re-prioritised".

PEOPLE FLEE CHRISTCHURCH

Nearly 50,000 people have flown out of Christchurch since last week's earthquake - the exodus is expected to soar as cheap fares are snapped up. Many more people have left the quake-hit city by car.

A lot of those leaving were visitors but Air New Zealand said many were residents looking for time out.

The national carrier has flown an average of 8000 people out of Christchurch International Airport daily with more than 45,000 having left as of Monday.

That figure was expected to have passed 50,000 by yesterday and reach as high as 70,000 by week's end, Air New Zealand spokesman Mark Street.

The extra seats equated to around 20 additional Boeing 737 services per day on top of existing services.

''We have used every jet aircraft type in our fleet to find the additional capacity,'' he said.

FUNERALS BEGIN

It is a week since the earthquake and the funerals have started.

Farewells are due today for 22-year-old aspiring actor Jaime Robert McDowell Gilbert, who died holding his sister's hand after he tried to escape his workplace, the Iconic bar in Gloucester St, and Joseph Tehau Pohio, 40, killed by falling rubble as he crouched to help an injured woman in the Christchurch Food Court in High St.

The first funeral of a quake victim was at 1pm yesterday in Sockburn, where mourners farewelled five-month-old Baxtor Gowland, who died of his injuries in Bishop St, St Albans.

The impression he made on all those who met him in his short time was evident in the intense grief at the service, which was conducted by his great-aunt, Archdeacon May Croft.

CLEAN-UP CONTINUES - SO DO EVACUATIONS

This morning it emerged that concrete was being pumped into the bottom of the Hotel Grand Chancellor to stabilise the high-rise building at risk of collapse.

A British USAR (Urban Search and Rescue) team was hopeful of recovering more bodies at the Pyne Gould Corporation site, but recovery work was hard-going.

Fears of falling rocks saw a further 12 houses evacuated from Redcliffs overnight, police said.

"And in the Bowenvale area in Cashmere we evacuated 65 homes," Superintendent Russell Gibson told Radio New Zealand.

"We're going door to door and moving people out. And I've got to say that we're getting fantastic support, people are accepting of that and we'll have engineers back in those places at dawn reassessing, making sure that if it's a true danger then they'll have to stay out.

"If we can put them back in their homes then we'll do that."

Most of the Clifton Hill residents who were evacuated yesterday were allowed home last night about 6pm.
Senior Sergeant Murray Hurst said engineers had given the hillside the all clear.

'WAR ZONE'

A week on, the central city still looks like a war zone.

Access to the area within the four avenues is strictly controlled. Police and soldiers continue to man cordons, while rescue crews comb the still shaky remains of the city for survivors, hoping for a miracle.

Three hundred police from the rest of New Zealand and 300 Australian officers have augmented Christchurch police on the streets.

Other crews, including those from China, Taiwan, Japan, Australia and the United States, have the task of recovering bodies, which are then taken to a morgue at the Burnham Military Camp so specialist personnel can identify the bodies.

The process can be short-circuited if family can identify their loved ones, but DNA and dental records are often needed.

Commander Nick Bracken, of New Scotland Yard, who was senior identification manager after Thailand's 2004 Boxing Day tsunami, has arrived in Christchurch, and was briefed yesterday.

Christchurch Hospital's intensive care unit is at capacity, with some of the injured fighting for their lives and 10 people having limbs amputated.

- MARTIN VAN BEYNEN and GLENN CONWAY/The Press, with MARTIN KAY/Stuff and NZPA


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