That is a remote district, like we are.Wayne Brown Far North MayorFlags are flying at half mast throughout Northland as a pall of shock and sorrow blankets New Zealand following the Pike River Mine tragedy.
While the tight-knit Greymouth community is most painfully cut by the loss of 29 lives, many from outside the region also lived on a five-day knife edge of hope, grief and anguish. Among them is One Tree Point builder Geoff Valli, brother of dead miner Keith "Kojak" Valli.
Mr Valli, who has been in Greymouth since Sunday, said Wednesday's second, deadly explosion "had absolutely shattered" hopes that miners might be brought out alive.
"It was always the case that none of them probably survived the first blast, but you don't know for sure, you don't give up," an emotional Mr Valli said.
"The pressure on everyone has been lifted to some extent. There is certainty now, and people can just grieve."
He first heard about last Friday's explosion on the 6pm radio news.
"I raced inside and phoned Keith's partner, Bev, to see if it was where he was working and she said he was in there, he was one of the 29."
Two days later Mr Valli was with several other family members holding a vigil in Greymouth that would last days while they awaited confirmation - of any kind. Briefings several times a day kept them informed about every step of the planned "recovery". Yesterday, the families were hoping a midday briefing would offer them some idea of when they could start planning funerals, he said.
While the intensive presence of media had upset some locals, the community generally understood the magnitude of the disaster and its national and international significance, Mr Valli said.
"The whole country has had a kick in the guts. This is huge."
Mining had been in the western Southland-based Valli family's blood. Keith, 62, had spent his working life in mines. Too young to retire after his job ended at a mine at Ohai, near Nightcaps, he had moved to Greymouth to work out his last two years in the industry, Mr Valli said.
Their father was a life-long miner and three of the five brothers in Keith and Geoff's generation had worked in mines at some time, including Geoff Valli, who had also been a one-game All Black.
Whangarei Mayor Morris Cutforth has sent a message of sympathy to Grey District Mayor Tony Kokshoorn asking him to pass on his and Whangarei's condolences to the families and friends of those who have lost their lives in the Pike River Mine.
"The depth of grief and loss felt by all those who have lost so many in this tragedy is almost impossible for most of us to comprehend," Mr Cutforth said.
"'We can share only a small part of the sorrow that Grey District is feeling right now."
Mr Cutforth said Mr Kokshoorn had handled the media and public pressures of the past few days with dignity and resolve despite his own very real sense of loss and pain.
"My thoughts go out to him also."
Far North Mayor Wayne Brown said that as well as sending a sympathy letter to Grey District Mayor Kokshoorn, his council would be asking how the Far North could help that West Coast community.
"That is a remote district, like we are. I don't know how we can help or what they might need, but I understand the pressure on the mayor and services will be greater because of that remoteness," Mr Brown said.
Kaipara Mayor Neil Tiller said his deepest sympathy went to the families who had lost loved ones and to the closely connected community.
"Our thoughts and prayers from the people of the Kaipara District are with the families and community as they come to terms with this disaster," Mr Tiller said.
Reverend Dr Michael Godfrey of Whangarei's Anglican Parish of Christ Church said the church would hold a candlelight memorial service at 7pm on Saturday. The service will be Christian-based but open to all, Dr Godfrey said.
"I hope the Christians in our community, together with atheists, Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, Jews, Hare Krishnas - whatever we believe - can join in an outpouring of hope, prayer and compassion for those whose lives are devastated by the events of Pike River."