Christchurch says goodbye to youngest victim of earthquake

Click to follow
The Independent Online

The youngest known victim of the New Zealand earthquake was its first to be laid to rest yesterday, as grieving relatives clutching stuffed toys bid farewell to five-month-old Baxtor Gowland.

The infant was sleeping at his home in the southern city of Christchurch when he was struck by masonry shaken loose when the earthquake hit with sudden and brutal force last Tuesday. He died in hospital.

Authorities have named just eight victims of the disaster – Baxtor and another infant among them – and say they are struggling to identify many of the 140 other bodies pulled from the rubble because of their injuries.

Dozens of Baxtor's family and friends, most wearing baby-blue ribbons pinned to their mourning black, gathered at a small chapel. A slideshow of the smiling infant's photographs flashed on a screen as Sarah McLachlan's song "Angel" echoed throughout the room.

After the ceremony, the tiny white casket bearing a wreath of white flowers was carried by a single pallbearer to a waiting car. His mother watched, clutching a dark-blue stuffed toy.

"Bax you are forever in our hearts we will always love you xo," the boy's father Shaun McKenna wrote on a Facebook tribute page, under a photo he uploaded of his son. "To the little man who made everyone smile who met him, may you look down upon us and help us remember your beautiful face."

The official death toll from the earthquake rose to 148 yesterday after another body was found, and grave fears remain for about 50 people who are unaccounted for, Police Superintendent David Cliff said.

Among the dead or missing are dozens of foreign students from an international language school inside an office building that collapsed with up 120 people inside. Up to 22 other people may be buried in the rubble at Christchurch Cathedral, most of them believed to be tourists climbing the bell tower for its panoramic views of the southern New Zealand city.

Distraught relatives, including many who flew in from overseas last week, met with officials again yesterday hoping for news on the identification process. "The waiting is the agonising part," Superintendent Cliff said. Two minutes of silence will be observed for the victims today.

New Zealand's Prime Minister, John Key, announced the first package of financial measures for the stricken city – subsidies for employers worth NZ$120m (£55m) to help pay salaries for some 50,000 people unable to go to work because of the earthquake damage.

"It is designed to immediately put money into peoples' pockets and give them some confidence," Mr Key said after a Cabinet meeting. He also put the expected economic cost of the earthquake at about NZ$20 billion (£9.2bn).

Mr Key has vowed that Christchurch will be rebuilt, and to standards that can weather major earthquakes in future. Many of the buildings that collapsed or were badly damaged were built before New Zealand upgraded building codes to guard against earthquake damage in the 1970s.

Power and water supplies are gradually being restored to the city, though the clean-up efforts have been hampered by heavy layers of silt thrown up by the earthquake that are now building up in many places.