Prince pays tribute to tireless rescuers

By Andrew Koubaridis, agencies

The Prince brings a smile to the face of Usar workers.
The Prince brings a smile to the face of Usar workers.

As Prince William passed a table in the Civil Defence centre where bottles of Powerade were being given out, he betrayed his Englishness.

"I normally drink cups of tea," he told the woman handing out the sports drinks.

It was a light moment of self-deference - one of many the future King made as he strolled among the people of Christchurch.

At one stage, 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 that showed where each Port-a-loo was located.

William arrived in Christchurch yesterday morning and toured the centre of the city so badly affected by the earthquake on February 22.

He also visited the Emergency Management Centre.

Yesterday evening, he visited Greymouth to meet the families of the 29 men who died in the Pike River coal mine disaster late last year.

And today, he will travel to the Christchurch suburb of Sumner and talk to residents affected by the earthquake, before heading to Hagley Park for the memorial service due to begin at 12.30pm.

Despite the short timeframe of his visit, the Prince made time to talk to everyone who wanted a moment with him.

And though there were light moments and smiles, there was also a sombre side.

Outside Latimer Square, which has been acting as the base for Urban Search and Rescue (Usar) teams, William spoke of his astonishment at the level of devastation. "It's just the scale of it, it is unbelievable."

Referring to the Grand Chancellor Hotel, he said, "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, the Prince was greeted by dozens of Usar workers.

"You guys have been doing a sterling job. You really have. You have done fantastically well."

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

Later, he said: "It's a great morale booster 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 booster and we really appreciate it."

When Usar teams got William to pose for a picture, they put a cap on his head and he joked, "It smells a bit dodgy."

The Prince also spoke to Shane O'Brien, another Usar member, whose house in Bexley was badly hit by the quake.

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

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

Mr O'Brien said the Prince told him both Lilah and Verity were proud of their father.

"I think it [William's visit] is really good," Mr O'Brien said. "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."

At his final stop, the Christchurch Fire Station, Prince William spoke at length to Paul Rodwell and Terry Gyde, two firefighters who pulled Japanese quake survivor 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 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."

Prince William was also able to bring another smile to the faces of those gathered as he signed a hat for the service. "Don't tell anyone," he joked before signing the hat with "City Station, Good Luck! William."

- NZ Herald

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