Kurt Bayer is a Herald reporter based in Christchurch

Christchurch begins grim memorial

Christchurch quake victims attend the dedication and unveiling of a memorial for the unidentified and unfound victims of the earthquake, one day before the anniversary of the event. Photo / Greg Bowker
Christchurch quake victims attend the dedication and unveiling of a memorial for the unidentified and unfound victims of the earthquake, one day before the anniversary of the event. Photo / Greg Bowker

A special cemetery for victims of the February 22 earthquake was officially opened today - a day before the one-year anniversary of the Christchurch disaster.

The unidentified remains of four earthquake victims were laid to rest earlier today in a communal grave at Avonhead Park Cemetery in the west of the embattled city.

Four of the 185 people who died in the disaster, and whose remains could not be formally identified, were buried in a single casket in a private interment ceremony.

The victims: Shawn Lucas, 40, of Christchurch, Rhea Mae Sumalpong, 25, Philippines, Elsa Torres De Frood, 53, Peru, and Valeri Volnov, 41, a Russian-born New Zealand resident, were all in the CTV building that collapsed and caught fire, killing a total of 115 people.

At 6pm, Christchurch mayor Bob Parker officially unveiled a memorial plinth to the unidentified, and unfound, victims of the killer magnitude-6.3 quake ahead of tomorrow's poignant and emotional first-year anniversary.

Mr Parker, who has pledged funding for the interment site from the Christchurch Earthquake Mayoral Relief Fund, said earlier that the Avonhead Park Cemetery interment site will provide a "special environment" for everyone to enjoy the beautiful surroundings and remember those who lost their lives.

Hundreds gathered at the cemetery for the unveiling tonight, including Prime Minister John Key, Governor-General Sir Jerry Mateparae, high-ranking police officers, and foreign dignitaries.

Anglican Bishop Rev. Victoria Matthews told the gathering during a solemn 15-minute service that the memorial plinth would "point us to the future" and "comfort us in our sorrows."

More than 20 bereaved families have accepted the Christchurch City Council's offer of a burial plot dedicated to those who died in the killer magnitude-6.3 earthquake.

Many of them gathered at the service tonight, with family groups hugging and supporting each other during the ceremony, especially when young singer Taylor Roche performed a touching rendition of 'Amazing Grace'.

After the short service, the families were asked to lay flowers at the memorial, and the media was asked to leave, to allow the families to grieve and pay tribute to their loved ones.

Avonhead Park Cemetery was identified as the most appropriate city cemetery by officials, especially as it has not been affected by liquefaction which has plagued large areas of the city after the large earthquakes.

The location of the cemetery site, and the design, were also developed "with close consideration given" to the victims' families.

The "inner circle" of the gravesite has been reserved for the unidentified remains held by the chief coroner following the close of the victim identification process.

The central feature is a striking memorial, intended as a gift from the city, which includes six granite plaques featuring words, repeated in English, Filipino, Maori, Russian, Spanish and Braille, saying: 'Etched in our City's memory, never to be forgotten. The City of Christchurch.'

A stainless steel band around the memorial says: 'The people of Christchurch will forever remember the unfound victims of the 22 February 2011 Earthquake'.

Another plaque reads: 'Interred here are unidentified remains recovered following the 22 February 2011 Christchurch Earthquake'.

Each victim will have their own granite plaque and the cemetery is open to the public from tomorrow.

Earlier in the day, the Governor-General and Lady Janine were welcomed to Canterbury by Ngai Tahu at Rehua Marae.

The couple also visited Cashel St Mall and its unique container shops which have attracted worldwide attention since they opened after the mall was decimated in the February 22 quake.

Memorial services are being held across the city, and New Zealand, tomorrow to remember those who died in the disaster.


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