'We can never be the same'

CHRISTCHURCH Mayor Bob Parker has told the thousands of Christchurch residents gathered at North Hagley Park for the major Civic Memorial Service that this day is above all others the "heaviest and hardest" for those who lost loved ones.

At the memorial to remember the 185 people who died in the February 22 earthquake a year ago, Mr Parker said the city can "never be the same again".

He said great links had been made because of the earthquake - "bounds that will never be broken".

Mr Parker said no city ever been more united and Christchurch had a great task in front of it - to "rebuild a city fit for heroes".

Mr Parker said there were positives already, just a year on, especially in some suburbs and areas where there was "a resurgence of strength and spirit.''

He acknowledged there had been "differences, creative and otherwise'' but said the city "no city has ever been more strongly united in wanting to recover, rebuild, and once more be a great place to live and work.''

Mr Parker said everyone had a responsibility to build a city "fit for the dreams of the ones we lost.''

Prime Minister John Key and his wife Bronagh Key, and Governor General Sir Jerry Mateparae and his wife Lady Janine Mateparae are among those present at the service.

Henare Rakiihia Tau, of Ngai Tuahuriri, Ngai Tahu's principle hapu in the region, delivered the Mihi Whakatau, a prayer of thanksgiving followed by a welcome to those gathered for the service.

The national anthem, God Defend New Zealand has been sung in Te Reo and in English, while Sam Johnson, representing the Student Volunteer Army, reading a verse from the bible.

Thousands of Cantabrians have turned out for the service, which will include the reading of the names of the 185 dead and a two minutes' silence starting at 12.51pm - the time the magnitude-6.3 quake struck last year.

The crowd is a cross section of Christchurch - Children and elderly, Maori, pakeha and an assortment of other nationalities, with many wearing red and black.

One early arrival Keith Longden - who lives in a red-stickered home in Dallington, one of the worst-affected city suburbs - took up a seat as close to the main stage as possible.

Mr Longden wanted to pay his respects to those who died, as well as thank the rescuers who "did such an incredible job in such trying circumstances''.

His son Grant was working in the ANZ Building in Cathedral Square when the quake hit, and Mr Longden feels lucky his family escaped the worst of it.

"We feel very lucky, but a lot of people weren't. It's important that we show some solidarity with them.''

The retiree spends half his year in his hometown of Eastwood, Nottingham in England, and the rest of his time with his five grandchildren in Christchurch.

He was at the service today with a homemade sign, 'Friends across the world: Eastwood, Nottingham.'

Sheila Carney, 70, of Papanui, told APNZ she couldn't bear to come to the memorial last March, as it was "too soon. I wasn't ready''.

But now she has vowed to come every year, no matter how upsetting it was.

"It's the least you can do. No one wants to be doing this today, but it's healthy - it's part of the grieving process.''

She also hoped that February 22 would be a Canterbury public holiday in the future, adding: "Then it would be up for individuals to come and pay their respects if they wanted to.''

Morning service

An emotional memorial service was held this morning for the bereaved families of the 185 Christchurch earthquake victims on the first anniversary of the February 22 disaster.

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

Mayor Bob Parker welcomed the gathering to what was going to be "a heavy day."

The service opened with a mihi whakatau Maori welcome followed by an introduction from Mr Parker.

He told the service: "This is a heavy day, heavy with emotion and loss."

Overlooked by broken buildings and within yards of the red zone cordon the once-popular inner city park was a scene of tears and heartfelt remembrance of lost loved ones. The park was used as a triage centre on the day of the quake and later, where bodies recovered from the rubble and debris were brought for identification.

Anglican Bishop Reverend Victoria Matthews gave a reading before an address by Prime Minister John Key.

Mr Key said the date February 22 will go down in New Zealand history as "one of our darkest days."

"The earthquake wreaked havoc on an unimaginable scale, shook us to the core, stole 185 loved ones from us and injured so many more."

Hundreds of other Christchurch residents turned up to witness the moving ceremony and pay their respects from behind a white picket fence.

Graeme Ell of Christchurch was having a coffee in the IRD building a year ago and watched the CTV Building collapse.

"I just wanted to come back to where I was a year ago," he said.

A semi-retired accountant he was due for a meeting at 1pm at the IRD and had taken a bus into town.

He watched the building collapse in four or five seconds but wasn't particularly concerned, "There was a cordon around the building - most of us thought there was no one inside.

"It was a shock to learn later how many people were lost."

Jacqui Irvine, a 38-year-old doctor from Blenheim, was in the now condemned Hotel Grand Chancellor when the quake struck.

"We came straight here to Latimer Square because it was safe and we collected injured people along the way."

Dr Irvine, formerly of Christchurch, worked in the emergency triage centre that was set up in the square immediately after the quake.

"We were working until 9am the next morning."

She described the hastily erected triage centre as, "Well organised."

"Everyone just did what they could," she said.

Dr Irvine said she was here at the memorial service to pay her respects and because, "This is home."

Stephanie Alderson, an IRD worker, also watched the CTV Building fall, and went to help straight away.

"A small group of people came to help."

Once the fire started, the rescue crews arrived and evacuated the area.

She said: "You don't think it's dangerous at the time - you just do what you can."

Ms Alderson said she came to the memorial service today as a "healing thing."

At the end of the service, families were led onto buses to visit sites, including the CTV Building, PGC, and Cathedral Square for their own reflections.

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