'It's just the scale of it - it's unbelievable"

Prince William talks to USAR officer Shane O'Brien and his children Lilah and Verity. Photo / Pool coverage
Prince William talks to USAR officer Shane O'Brien and his children Lilah and Verity. Photo / Pool coverage

Prince William described the devastation in Christchurch as "unbelievable" during his tour of Christchurch's quake-hit city centre today.

Just before 1pm, the Prince entered the red zone, travelling up Gloucester St and stopping first at Cathedral Square.

USAR engineer Des Bull and Reverend Peter Beck were among those to meet Prince William at the ruined site of the Christchurch Cathedral.

The Prince then travelled down the badly damaged Colombo St and Manchester St before arriving at Latimer Square.

Outside the square, which has been acting as the base for USAR teams, Mr Bull told Prince William about the damage to the Grand Chancellor building, which remains on a lean in Christchurch's central business district.

"It's just the scale of it, it is unbelievable," the Prince said outside Latimer Square.

"It really does bring it home to see it leaning like that. When you see buildings like that... that's very very sad.

Inside Latimer Square, Prince William was greeted by dozens of USAR workers.

"You guys have been doing a sterling job. You really have. You have done fantasically well," the Prince said.

The Prince also spoke of how it had been an "horrendous time for disasters in the last six months".

"There was a lot of us who were in the military were gnashing our teeth to get over here," he said of the situation in Christchurch.

USAR area commander Steve Barclay was among those who spoke to the Prince.

"It's a great morale boaster to have him here. It's not purely symbolic. We had Russell Crowe here the other day and we had John Key and having the Prince come all this way to acknowledge our problems is a real morale boaster and we really appreciate it."

When USAR teams got Prince William to pose for a picture, they put a cap on his head and he joked, "it smells a bit dodge".

Prince William also spoke to Shane O'Brien, another USAR officer, whose house in Bexley was badly hit by the quake.

His two shy twins Lilah and Verity, both 7, also met the future king.

"Who are these two lovely girls and are you looking after dad?" Prince William asked the pair.

He said Prince William told him both Lilah and Verity were proud of their father.

"I think it's really good. It gives us all a boost. While New Zealand is a tiny little place in the middle of nowhere, it's nice to know the world knows where we are and who we are," Mr O'Brien said.

Prince William also spoke to TV ONE camera man James Marshall, whose Gloucester St building was badly hit on the quake.

Mr Marshall told the Prince of how he grabbed his camera before immediately going to work on the day of the quake.

"Sure you did. You journalists are all the same. You'll all film first," the Prince joked.

The Prince also told Marshall the damage has "really been brought home to me today, driving around".

Prince William also spoke to Fairfax Reporter Keith Lynch about the damage to the historic home of The Press in Cathedral Square.

He passed on his condolences to the family of Press employee Adrienne Isobel Lindsay.

At his final stop, the Christchurch Fire Station, Prince William was introduced to firefighters.

He spoke at length to Paul Rodwell and Terry Gyde, two firefighters who pulled Japanese quake victim Norika Masutani from the ruins of the CTV building.

"He was interested in how the building looked and the conditions when we got there," Mr Rodwell said.

He told the Prince of how they tried to free the girl, who asked the doctors not to cut her leg off.

Their colleague Mike Yeates said, "He commented on how good buildings have withstood the shake and made some comments on the Grand Chancellor building.

"I wouldn't have missed it [the visit] for the world."

During his time at the station, a fire alarm went off, forcing one crew to speed off to an emergency somewhere in the city.

But the Prince continued talking to other firefighters.

And after the greetings, Prince William signed a hat for the service.

He joked "don't tell anyone" before signing the hat, "City Station, Good Luck! William."

Dean of the Christchurch Cathedral Reverend Peter Beck said the Prince asked about the future of the city after seeing the Cathedral.

"Overall he was looking throughout the square, seeing the devastation there and acknowledging the devastation.

"He seems like me to a wonderfully genuine nice guy who was seriously amazed by what he was seeing.

"It's great that he could be here and be part of this today and it acknowledges the significance of what's happened here."

Prince thanks Civil Defence workers

Earlier, Prince William has thanked Civil Defence workers for the "wonderful" job they are doing in the aftermath of the Christchurch earthquake.

He spent almost an hour at the Civil Defence headquarters being briefed on the ongoing rescue effort.

The Prince told members of the armed forces he was stunned at the level of destruction in the CBD, and asked how the earthquake personally had affected them.

Burnham-based Captain Mark Rutledge told him his wife's cousin perished in the CTV building.

A sombre-looking prince said he had been briefed about the worst-affected sites.
"I've seen photos of it... It's so serious," Prince William said.

He asked the officers what role they played in the response. "Have you been picking people out of the rubble?"

Flying Officer George McInnes said that "would have been a bit noisy with the vibrations" so their role had been transporting people and equipment.

When he said they flew Iroquois helicopters, Prince William told him he was sorry about last year's Anzac Day tragedy that killed three airmen.

Prince William was shown through the Civil Defence headquarters at the Christchurch Art Gallery by national controller John Hamilton and Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee.

He shook hands with as many people as possible and thanking them for the "wonderful work you are all doing".

The speed of how the disaster relief was assembled particuarly impressed him as did the way different agencies were working together towards the same goal.

He spent several minutes with the welfare team who explained the medium and long-term implications the earthquake would have on residents.

One of the many questions he asked staff was the effect the February 22 disaster had on education in the city, and was impressed when told that many schools had already re-opened.

He asked to meet the women who co-ordinated the port-a-loo distribution throughout the city and posed for a photograph with them.

"Someone's got to do it," he joked as he surveyed a map of the city which showed where each port-a-loo was located.

The emergency centre was still busy during the Prince's visit but many people stopped working briefly to take photographs and watch him move through the building.

Visit important for city's morale

Onlooker James Sykes said the visit was important for the city as it tried to recover from the quake.

"I'm not what you would call a royalist, but I'm just glad that someone in his shoes decided to come down here," Mr Sykes said.

"It shows solidarity with the people. It shows the people of England actually care about what's going on down here."

His wife Lesley Seaton said it was "pretty amazing to see a royal" despite saying she thought he was not as good looking as his reputation suggested.

"People talk him up so much, they talk about handsome Wills and that sort of thing, and I guess because I'm not in his age group, he looked like a boy really," Ms Seaton said.

However, it was still great that he had visited, she said.

"It's recognition that the world has noticed...and maybe him coming here gives people a bright spot."

For Margery Stone, the prince's visit was the first time she had seen a royal since his grandmother Queen Elizabeth toured in 1953.

"When the Queen visited in 1953, I presented her with a bouquet," Ms Stone said.

"I think it's nice, I think it's lovely," she said about the visit.

Prince William is now in Greymouth meeting with families of the victims of the Pike River mine disaster.

He will attend a memorial service for victims of the Christchurch earthquake in the city tomorrow.

He is due to leave Wellington on Saturday for Australia, where he will tour some of recently heavily flood-damaged areas.

- pool reporters

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