A day of prayer as Christchurch mourns its dead

Residents held open-air prayers for the dead and missing yesterday on the lawns of churches cracked and shattered in New Zealand's earthquake while teams continued their search through debris of one of the country's worst disasters.

"As our citizens make their way to church this Sunday they will be joined in prayer by millions around the world," said Mayor Bob Parker of the devastated city of Christchurch. "For now we are truly comforted by the thoughts and prayers of so many." The official death toll rose yesterday to 147 and was expected to rise further, Police Superintendent Dave Cliff said. Prime Minister John Key has said the quake, which badly damaged the city, may be the country's "single most tragic" disaster.

When the quake ripped through the city last Tuesday, the churches were among the hardest-hit buildings. Among them was the iconic Christchurch Cathedral, at the heart of the city, which suffered massive damage, its bell tower in ruins and 22 people potentially lying dead inside.

Still, many residents of the largely Christian city found a way to hold Mass yesterday.

Parishioners set up rows of chairs on the lawn of St Barnabas, an 86-year-old Anglican church where the quake cracked walls, shattered windows and left the tower sinking.

Reverend Philip Robinson tried to rally a somber crowd. "This is not called Christchurch for nothing," he said. "We will rise again."