CHRISTCHURCH, NEW ZEALAND – The New Zealand city of Christchurch came to a standstill Monday on the fifth anniversary of an earthquake that left 185 people dead, including 28 Japanese, amid anger about accountability and insurance delays.
New Zealand Prime Minister John Key, Christchurch Mayor Lianne Dalziel, Japanese Parliamentary Vice Foreign Minister Hitoshi Kikawada and families of the victims were among those who attended the event organized by the city.
Dalziel said more time for healing is needed for many people affected by the devastation caused by the magnitude-6.3 quake that struck Christchurch at 12:51 p.m. on Feb. 22, 2011.
Although empty lots remain in the city, reconstruction is underway, as seen by the reopening of facilities such as museums and the decision late last year to rebuild the ChristChurch Cathedral.
“Today we reflect on the Christchurch earthquake, remember those we lost and look forward with optimism to the future,” Prime Minister John Key said in a message on Twitter. “Today we remember the events of five years ago in Christchurch and those who lost their lives. But we also reflect on how far we’ve come, what’s been achieved and look forward to the future with a renewed sense of optimism.”
However, Key’s words jarred many people who are angry that no one has yet been held accountable for the buildings that collapsed and not all home insurance claims have been settled.
Maan Alkaisi’s wife was one of 115 people killed when a six-story office block known as the CTV Building collapsed. He has been campaigning for accountability ever since an inquiry found that construction did not meet standards.
“The fact that after five years there is nothing; how do you explain that?” Alkaisi told the New Zealand Herald.
Kazuo Horita, 61, from Japan, whose daughter Megumi died in the CTV Building, said, “Her life ended when she was 19 years old. There is no change in a parent’s feelings, whether five years pass or 10 years pass.”
Twenty-eight Japanese people died in the CTV Building, which housed an English-language school for foreign students.
Horita is also seeking accountability and an early conclusion of the police investigation into the case.
Other Japanese who attended the event included Kikuo Suzuki, 69, who lost his 31-year-old daughter Yoko, and Kanji Hyakuman, 63, father of Haruki, who died at age 27. Both victims were nurses.
Prior to the official ceremony, the Japanese families held a separate service at a cemetery where their relatives are buried.
Meanwhile in the city of Toyama on Monday, a gathering took place at the Toyama College of Foreign Languages to remember the 12 students from the institution who died. They were taking part in an academic program in Christchurch.
“All of us loved our children,” said Naohiro Kanamaru, whose 19-year-old daughter Kayo was among the dead. “Our lives have totally changed . . . but we will carry on living the best we can.”
Kanamaru said his message to students currently enrolled at the college would be: “You only live once, so do your best in terms of studying and enjoying yourselves.”
The New Zealand government plans to build a state-run memorial by the Avon River, where a wall will be erected that will bear the names of the victims.