Kurt Bayer

Kurt Bayer is an APNZ reporter based in Christchurch.

Grief and smiles mark anniversary

A crowd of 85,000 gathered at Hagley Park a year after the magnitude 6.3 earthquake that struck Christchurch. Photo / Greg Bowker
A crowd of 85,000 gathered at Hagley Park a year after the magnitude 6.3 earthquake that struck Christchurch. Photo / Greg Bowker

One year after its "darkest day'', the city of Christchurch paused to reflect today and remember the 185 victims of the February 22, 2011 earthquake.

An emotional memorial service for the bereaved families started a day of anniversary events which paid tribute to the dead and injured, but also highlighted the remarkable tales of heroism in the quake's aftermath.

More than 20,000 Cantabrians later filled a central city park to honour the fallen, witness the release of 185 monarch butterflies, and hear a complete list of the names of the dead being read out.

Christchurch mayor Bob Parker described the first anniversary as a day "heavy with emotion and loss'' and Prime Minister John Key acknowledged the "pain and sorrow'' of the embattled city's inhabitants.

After the 8am service in Latimer Square - a park used as an emergency triage centre on the day of the quake, and later, where bodies recovered from the rubble and debris were taken for identification - the families were bussed inside the red zone cordon, away from the media's glare.

They visited the CTV Building site, where 115 died, the PGC Building, whose collapse claimed 18 lives, and the now decimated Cathedral Square, for private reflections and to pay tribute to lost loved ones.

At noon, the families joined dignitaries and 20,000 fellow citizens for a mass civic memorial service in North Hagley Park.

Although there were many emotional scenes, especially during the 15 minutes in which the list of dead was read out and families and friends hugged and consoled each other, it was also a musical occasion, and one with an upbeat feel.

The crowd was shown video clips of ordinary Cantabrians explaining their hopes for the future and why they love the city. The candid interview snippets brought smiles, even bursts of laughter from the gathering.

In a video link US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told the city that America "shares your grief'' and vowed to continue to work together and "seize the opportunities of the 21st century''.

After the ceremony, families were in a sombre mood but there was few mass outbursts of emotion.

The family of 28-year-old tattooist Matti Mceachen, killed in the quake, likened today's mass civic memorial service to "another funeral'' but welcomed the opportunity to "share the grief'' with other families.

Other smaller memorial services were held across the city, including many community events. Most people still had to go to work, and would later reflect on the seismic events of a year ago, in their own personal way.

'Good to share the grief'

Meanwhile, the bereaved family of one young earthquake victim likened today's mass civic memorial service to "another funeral.''

Apprentice tattooist Matti McEachen, 28, was killed by falling masonry while trying to flee the Southern Ink tattoo parlour in Colombo St during last year's February 22 earthquake.

Today members of his extended family attended the memorial in North Hagley Park, along with more than 20,000 fellow Cantabrians.

They welcomed today's memorials, saying it was "good to share the grief.''

His dad Bruce was touched by the service, especially when the full list of victims was read out by representatives of the emergency services.

Mr McEachen said: "The number 185 is just another number, but when you have all 185 names read out, it really gives it a human perspective. It took such a long time, and you realise just how many families are affected by this.''

Mum Jay said: "It's like another funeral.''

The McEachen family earlier attended the memorial service for victims' families at Latimer Square.

Hundreds of friends and family of the fallen filled Latimer Square in the heart of the broken city for the poignant service.

Mrs McEachen said while it was "tough to go through'', the ceremony was "very good.''

She said: "It was very well done, and it was nice to share that experience as a group of families. It was a good thing to go through together, knowing they felt the same as us.''

After the 8am service, the McEachens joined other families in being escorted by bus inside the city's red zone cordon to visit various sites.

They spent some time in Cathedral Square - an experience Mr McEachen described as "very spooky.''

He said: "It was so quiet and empty - like a ghost town.''

Twelve months after the tragedy of losing Matti, the family are still struggling to come to terms with his death.

His sister Sarah, who was visibly upset during today's memorial service and was comforted by Matti's mate Stace Fifield, said: "Time holds no meaning.''

They especially found the Canterbury Earthquakes Royal Commission of Inquiry hearings, which focussed on the Southern Ink building, tough to go through.

Mr McEachen said: "The whole thing was extremely unpleasant. He should never have been in that building.''

His wife admitted they are still "angry'' with their son's "waste of life'', but added: "It doesn't do us any good.''


- APNZ

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