William shocked by NZ quake damage as people say 'Thanks for visiting'

The devastation left by last month's earthquake in Christchurch took Prince William by surprise yesterday.

He toured the central area, which is still closed to all but rescue workers, to see the impact of the magnitude 6.3 quake which struck on 22 February, killing at least 166 people. "The scale of it is unbelievable," the Prince said, looking at the 26-storey Hotel Grand Chancellor, teetering at a dangerous angle after its foundations slumped. "It really does bring it home to you to see a building like that; it's just so sad."

Media and officials outnumbered onlookers as the casually dressed Prince was briefed at the disaster relief headquarters before his tour. The visit was seen as a morale boost for the city of 400,000 people, smashed by two massive quakes in five months.

"He's our prince, he didn't have to come here but he did and the fact that he did means a great deal to us," said the Mayor, Bob Parker. The Prince had been applauded as he walked through the airport terminal after arriving, with one woman heard calling: "Thank you so much for coming to Christchurch."

The city promotes its English roots from the mid-19th-century immigrants through the names of its streets and river – the Avon – classical stone and masonry architecture and plush gardens.