New Zealand marks 10th anniversary of Christchurch earthquake

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New Zealand lowered its flags on Monday and made special note of those who could not travel as it marked the 10th anniversary of the Christchurch earthquake that killed 185 people.

Hundreds of people attended an outdoor service in Christchurch, which continues to rebuild from the magnitude 6.3 quake that destroyed much of the city’s downtown area.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said it was important to remember that 87 of the victims were foreigners and many of their families could not attend due to coronavirus travel restrictions.

“Our flags fly at half-mast for them today too,” she said.

New Zealand Christchurch Quake Anniversary Survivors
A scene in downtown Christchurch after the quake (Mark Baker/AP)

“I especially wanted to mention all the Japanese family members who I last year met in Japan and who so wanted to be here,” she said.

“We are forever connected by this tragedy and we do not forget you even when we are apart. You are with us in spirit.”

Another who spoke at the service was Maan Alkaisi, a university professor who has spent years trying to compel authorities to press criminal charges against those who designed the CTV building which collapsed during the quake, killing 115 people including his wife, Maysoon Abbas.

New Zealand Christchurch Quake Anniversary Survivors
Murray and Kelly James survey their ruined house after the quake (Mark Baker/AP)

“Today commemorates 10 years of injustice and mistreatment,” Mr Alkaisi said.

“Today reminds us of our responsibility to make sure we learn from this tragic experience and honour those lovely people we lost by ensuring their dreams are kept alive, by ensuring this will not happen again.”

The memorial service was held on the banks of the Avon River, and a moment’s silence was observed at 12.51pm, the time the quake struck. Emergency service workers and others took turns reading out the names of each of the victims.

Ms Dalziel read out a message from Bob Parker, who was the mayor at the time of the quake and became an internationally known face of the tragedy. Mr Parker recently suffered a stroke and attended the service in a wheelchair.

Ms Ardern said the quake had affected people in many ways, and daily reminders including aftershocks and the fractured landscape had made the recovery harder.

Japanese memorial
Family members and students attend a memorial ceremony at Toyama Foreign Language College (Kyodo News/AP)

“But as we look ahead to the coming decade, I see hope and energy and optimism,” she said. “And I see Christchurch taking its rightful place amongst New Zealand’s best and brightest cities.”

In Toyama, more than 100 family members, friends and school officials observed a moment of silence for the student victims and offered flowers during a ceremony at the Toyama College of Foreign Languages.

Most of them joined in online due to coronavirus measures.

College head Tamehisa Ueda said at the ceremony: “Now, 10 years after that earthquake, the sadness of losing you all and the indescribable regret are once again in our hearts.”

Twelve Japanese students were having lunch at King’s Education, an English language school for international students, when the quake struck, destroying the building.

Masatsugu Yokota, whose daughter Saki died aged 19 in the quake, told NHK public television that he still misses her.

“I still look for her while walking in town, or wherever I go,” he said.

Japan’s chief cabinet secretary Katsunobu Kato pledged the government’s ongoing support for the victims’ families.

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