Community strength will triumph

By NZPA, NZ Herald staff

The strength of the West Coast community will help it overcome its collective grief over the deaths of the 29 men who died in the Pike River mine tragedy, Governor-General Sir Anand Satyanand said today at the memorial service in Greymouth.

Everyone in the West Coast had been impacted by the Pike River disaster, Sir Anand said.

"It is a community where people know each other," he said.

"Each of those who died was also a workmate, a friend, a neighbour, an old school buddy, a member of a local rugby or rugby league team, someone across the aisle at church and someone who shopped in the local shops and supermarkets.

"The severing of all those connections in such dramatic circumstances has left a wound that may take years to heal.

"But it is that same sense of community... that will help this town and region to overcome its grief."

Sir Anand said the West Coast had suffered more than its fair share of tragedies and upheavals but the community's grit and stoic resilience had seen it rebound.

"The families of those who died, and the people of the West Coast, need to know that you do not stand alone," he said.

"All New Zealanders grieve with you and support you as you remember your loved ones."

He paid tribute to the strength and hardiness of the lost coal miners.

"Working underground in a mine is hard and difficult work. The men who died at Pike River endured those hardships to get ahead. To feed and clothe their families."

Condolences from around the world

Before his speech, Sir Anand read out messages of support that had been received from Queen Elizabeth, Prince Charles and Prince William, United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard.

"My heart goes out to the families and friends of these 29 brave miners," Queen Elizabeth's message said.

She thanks those who are helping heal the pain felt throughout New Zealand and the world.

Prince Charles and his son Prince William also sent condolences, saying the West Coast is in their thoughts at this "difficult" and "desperate" time.

A message from Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard expressed solidarity with the people of the West Coast.

"The nation is grieving with you at this dreadful and difficult time."

Sir Anand said many others had also sent letters of support, including the presidents of Italy, Greece and Singapore, the Queen of the Netherlands, the King of Belgium, the King of Jordan, the Pope, the Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, the President of the European Commission and Pacific Island leaders.

Mr Satyanand said the messages from around the world were echoed by all New Zealanders.

PM's personal message

Prime Minister John Key today delivered a personal message to the mothers whose children have been left fatherless as a result of the Pike River mine tragedy.

His was one of several moving tributes to a gathering of around 11,000 mourners who packed Greymouth's Omoto Racecourse for the official Remembrance Service of the 29 miners lost in the November 19 blast.

Mr Key looked to comfort those wives and partners worried their children would now grow up without a father.

"I was such a child, I know the absence of a parent is a heaviness you have to carry in your own way. It is a terrible thing to carry but it does not mean your children will not go on to live happy and fulfilling lives," Mr Key said.

"Even if those childrens' memories of their fathers fade, his legacy will live on in each one of you."

The most devastating impact of the Pike River tragedy had been felt in the streets of the West Coast, said Mr Key.

"It has had by far the most impact in the kitchens, living rooms and bedrooms - some now empty - in homes only a few miles from here."

He said all of New Zealand stood behind the West Coast.

"The stage I stand on today is a small stage.

"Too small to hold the four million New Zealanders who want to express their deepest sympathy this afternoon.

"Those four million people are behind you today as they have been since that fateful afternoon two weeks ago."

Miners 'in a place where they will be loved forever'

Earlier, Grey District Mayor Tony Kokshoorn told the gathering that the 29 miners were now in a better place.

Mr Kokshoorn said "these brave men are now in a place where they will be loved forever".

But he said the West Coast was no stranger to tragedy. It had always been an area where nature ruled.

"Once more the bell tolls through this valley," he said.

West Coast changed forever

Pike River CEO Peter Whittall told the service the tragedy had changed the West Coast forever.

Mr Whittall spoke after Reverend Tim Mora had opened the service with a request for two minutes silence from New Zealanders across the nation.

"At 3:45pm on November 19 our mine exploded and changed our lives forever," Mr Whittall said.

"Twenty-nine men lost their lives and 29 families lost their men."

He thanked police, Air New Zealand support workers, Greymouth Mayor Tony Kokshoorn and all New Zealanders for support through the disaster.

But his final thanks were reserved for the men still working "bloody hard" to recover the bodies of the men from the Pike River mine.

Reverend Mora had opened the service by acknowledging families of the lost miners and thanking dignitaries for attending the service.

"Thank you for being with us. Thank you for standing with us at this time."

The tragedy had shaken the West Coast as much as the 1967 Strongman tragedy, he said.

"But the area should be stronger and more resilient after going through the disaster."

Later, as the service ended, Reverend Mora said the miners' death was a tragic accident - not the result of fate or divine appointment.

He is encouraging the families of the lost men to turn to God to comfort them.

29 tables signify 29 lost miners - mourners arrive

Earlier, to the sound of bagpipes, thousands of mourners arrived and filed slowly past 29 tables, each containing the name of one of the 29 miners and contractors who died in the blast on Friday November 19.

Relatives adorned the tables with surfboards, rugby jerseys, balloons, framed pictures, hats and helmets, rugby balls, alcohol bottles, trophies, teddy bears, miniature cars and written messages.

The tables are set out in front of four half-mast flags representing each country which lost someone in the tragedy -- New Zealand, South Africa, Australia and the United Kingdom.

The family members, some of whom were weeping when they arrived today, were given space to arrange the tables before the arrival of the general public.

Among those gathered, numerous MPs and city mayors took their seats on the main stage.

They included Deputy Prime Minister Bill English, Labour Leader Phil Goff, Mining Gerry Brownlee, Auckland Mayor Len Brown and Christchurch Mayor Bob Parker.

'We can see their faces, we can see their hobbies'

Reverend Mora said that tables displaying photo frames and other, personal keepsakes of the miners made the occasion more "personal and real".

"We can see their faces, we can see their hobbies, their loved ones, their interests, it's all there. They are not just names now - they're people," he said.

Zen Drew, 21, has his favourite duvet cover, sweet dreams tea and a pack of custard powder.

Michael Monk's table is decorated with a rugby ball, candles and favourite beers on tap. There is a well-worn gorilla suit beside Ben Rockhouse's table.

Joseph Dunbar, who turned 17 the day before the first explosion, has been left a message from his dad which simply reads "love you my son, dad".

Around 11,000 people are thought to have attended the service which lies at the foot of the Paparoa mountain ranges where the bodies of the miners and contractors remain.

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