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
News
Sir David Attenborough
people
Life and Style
Young girl and bowl of cereal
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Henry VIII played by Damien Lewis
tvReview: Scheming queens-in-waiting, tangled lines of succession and men of lowly birth rising to power – sound familiar?
Sport
football
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Arts and Entertainment
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Ready to open the Baftas, rockers Kasabian are also ‘great film fans’
musicExclusive: Rockers promise an explosive opening to the evening
Life and Style
David Bowie by Duffy
fashion
Arts and Entertainment
Hell, yeah: members of the 369th Infantry arrive back in New York
booksWorld War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel
News
advertisingVideo: The company that brought you the 'Bud' 'Weis' 'Er' frogs and 'Wasssssup' ads, has something up its sleeve for Sunday's big match
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

Tradewind Recruitment: English Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: This post arises as a result of the need to...

Tradewind Recruitment: Class Teacher Required ASAP In Uminster

£120 - £150 per annum: Tradewind Recruitment: I am recruiting on instruction o...

Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Director - London - £70,000

£70000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Controller - Fina...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - Wimbledon, SW London

£24000 - £28000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - Wim...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
Why the league system no longer measures up

League system no longer measures up

Jon Coles, former head of standards at the Department of Education, used to be in charge of school performance rankings. He explains how he would reform the system
Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste
Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness
Homeless Veterans appeal: Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story

Homeless Veterans appeal

Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story
Front National family feud? Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks

Front National family feud?

Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks
Pot of gold: tasting the world’s most expensive tea

Pot of gold

Tasting the world’s most expensive tea
10 best wildlife-watching experiences: From hen harriers to porpoises

From hen harriers to porpoises: 10 best wildlife-watching experiences

While many of Britain's birds have flown south for the winter, it's still a great time to get outside for a spot of twitching