Prayers held for Christchurch earthquake victims

Residents held open-air prayers for the dead and missing today 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 Sunday to 147 and was expected to rise further, Police Superintendent Dave Cliff said. Prime Minister John Key has said the quake, which decimated the city's downtown, may be the country's "single-most tragic" disaster.



When the quake ripped through the city last Tuesday, the city's 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 on Sunday.



Parishioners set up rows of chairs in the sunlight and under the shade of trees on the lawn of St. Barnabas, an 86-year-old Anglican church where the quake cracked stone walls, shattered some stain glass windows and left the tower sinking. Wails of passing police cars and the roar of a military chopper overhead occasionally interrupted the sermon.



Rev. Philip Robinson later tried to rally a somber crowd.



"This is not called Christchurch for nothing," he said, drawing smiles from a few. "We will rise again."



After the service, people gathered by a table on the lawn to have coffee, scones and banana bread, and to comfort those still struggling. Megan Blakie, 45, stood in the crowd, eyes brimming with tears.



"I just am struggling with where's God in all of this?" she said. "It's not shattered my faith, but it's hard to keep going."



Outdoor services also were held at other churches and at a library, where attendees arrived on bicycle or on foot and sat in folding chairs. Church leaders had canceled a larger, multi-denominational service in a park for fear of clogging road access for emergency services.



Members of New Zealand's indigenous Maori community held a tradition ceremony at the ruined cathedral to bless spirits of the dead believed buried under the rubble there.



Other Christchurch residents chose to spend their Sunday in more secular surroundings, such as the botanical gardens, where oak trees insulate the pathways from the noise of the city's rescue and recovery operations.



The Robb family, brothers Neville and Graeme and their wives Gael and Michelle, met in the gardens, as they do every Sunday, to walk their dogs.



"You feel guilty doing something so normal when there is so much suffering," Michelle Robb said. "But the dogs need walking."



Some 56 percent of New Zealanders have a Christian religious affiliation and nearly 35 percent profess no religion, while religious groups like Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism are growing as immigrants arrive.



The multinational team of more than 600 rescuers scrabbling through wrecked buildings in the central city last pulled a survivor from the ruins at mid-afternoon Wednesday, making it four days without finding anyone alive.



Rescue coordinator Jim Stuart-Black said Sunday that rescuers were "still in active rescue mode" and continued "to look in every possible place for survivors," but that finding more survivors was increasingly unlikely.



"We are starting to move into the miracle stage of the operation," he said.



Cliff, the police superintendent, said the official death toll rose to 147 based on the number of bodies brought to a special morgue.



He said list of the missing was "over 200," and clarified Sunday that police assume that bodies already collected and awaiting identification will end up matching names on the missing list, leaving just "over 50 people unaccounted for." Only six bodies have been publicly identified.



New Zealand's deadliest disaster was a 1931 temblor that killed 256 people.



Engineers and planners said Saturday the city's decimated central area may be completely unusable for months to come and that up to a third of the buildings may need to be razed and rebuilt.



Key, the prime minister, said the government would announce an aid package Monday for an estimated 50,000 people who will be out of work for months due to the closure of downtown. He also called for two minutes of silence on Tuesday to remember both victims and the ordeal of the survivors.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
peopleMathematician John Nash inspired the film Beautiful Mind
News
Richard Blair is concerned the trenches are falling into disrepair
newsGeorge Orwell's son wants to save war site that inspired book
Life and Style
Audrey Hepburn with Hubert De Givenchy, whose well-cut black tuxedo is a 'timeless look'
fashionIt may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
Arts and Entertainment
The pair in their heyday in 1967
music
Life and Style
fashionFrom bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine