STANDING shoulder to shoulder, the people of Christchurch supported each other as they gathered to remember the victims of the earthquake that shattered their city exactly a year ago.
Tens of thousands of people gathered in Hagley Park, sharing hugs and tears during a civic memorial service, where the names of the 185 victims of the earthquake were read aloud on Wednesday.
Their names were followed by two minutes of silence at 12.51pm – the exact time the magnitude 6.3 quake struck on February 22 last year.
Many in the crowd wore black and red – the colours of the Canterbury Crusaders rugby team which have become synonymous with Christchurch’s strength – or T-shirts that note the rescue role they played following the quake.
Governor-General Sir Jerry Mateparae, Prime Minister John Key, MPs and ambassadors also attended.
Christchurch Mayor Bob Parker spoke of how the city had been irrevocably changed in the wake of the country’s worst natural disaster – but it had new links with all the people and countries who came to Christchurch’s aid after the disaster.
“We will never forget the things that you have done for us,” Mr Parker said.
From the earthquake, Cantabrians had learned to stand together to survive, and they were remarkable people and heroes, he said.
“Let us work together to rebuild a city fit for heroes.”
Student Volunteer Army leader Sam Johnson and Prime Minister John Key delivered readings, while representatives of different faiths offered prayers.
Governor-General Sir Jerry Mateparae said all of New Zealand stood alongside Christchurch as it recovered.
“Together we will see [Christchurch] reclaim its status and character here on the plains of Canterbury, beneath the Port Hills, as a vibrant garden city.
“A proud and prosperous city will stand here again.”
He said the release of 185 monarch butterflies at the service symbolised both those souls that had departed, and a new beginning for the city.
He also delivered a message of support from Prince Charles, who said he admired the strength of those trying to rebuild their lives and the city, while in a video message, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also paid tribute to the city’s resilience.
“Even those of us who were far away on that terrible day share in your grief, and we know it’s been a struggle, but through that struggle we’ve seen the strength and perseverance of the people of Christchurch,” she said.
The anniversary day was also an opportunity to recognise the heroes of the earthquake, with 140 people and organisations receiving Christchurch Earthquake Awards on Wednesday afternoon.
Among them was Joe Pohio, killed by falling rubble while trying to save a woman after the quake. His award was collected by his mother, Joy.
Mr Parker accepted the Royal Humane Society’s gold medal on behalf of the people of Christchurch, for their acts of bravery and humanity in the wake of the disaster.
Earlier on Wednesday, a commemorative service for the families of quake victims was held at Latimer Square.
Prime Minister John Key told the 500 people at that service that it was both a day to remember those who were lost, and a day to look forward to what Christchurch could become in future.
“We remember that day and honour those who died, those who were injured, those who selflessly went to the aid of their fellow human beings, and those who continue to help to get Canterbury back on its feet,” he said.
“We cannot numb the pain of those who lost loved ones any more than we can bring back those who died.
“But together we can take strength from one another and move forward.”