CHRISTCHURCH, NEW ZEALAND – New Zealand on Thursday marked the seventh anniversary of an earthquake that devastated the South Island city of Christchurch in 2011, killing 185 people and injuring thousands.
Of the victims, 115 died in the six-story Canterbury Television building — which collapsed in the 6.3 magnitude temblor — including 28 Japanese students who were studying English at the King’s Education language school on the building’s fourth floor.
Speaking at a memorial service at the Canterbury Earthquake National Memorial beside Christchurch’s Avon River, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the whole of New Zealand is “just as behind Christchurch as they were seven years ago.”
She noted that over 40 percent of the quake victims were foreign nationals, making the earthquake a “tragedy that touched people from all around the world.”
“We remember and we grieve with their families too,” Ardern said. “We will never ever forget, and we will keep their dreams alive.”
Attendees observed a moment of silence at 12:51 p.m., the time when the quake struck on the same date in 2011. Among those at the service were bereaved families who traveled from overseas for the anniversary, as well as Senior Vice Foreign Minister Kazuyuki Nakane.
After the service, Kikuo and Chizuko Suzuki, who lost their then 31-year-old daughter, Yoko, in the collapse, said seven years had passed in the blink of an eye.
“When I heard the victims’ names read out, I remembered just how many people died,” said Kikuo Suzuki, 71.
Now on their 10th visit, the Suzuki family comes to Christchurch every year to mark the anniversary of the earthquake and to meet with other bereaved families, who have since become close friends.
“Because of our daughter, we’ve had the opportunity to travel to New Zealand — a place on the other side of the world, that we never anticipated visiting,” Kikuo said.
“Although our daughter has passed away, I’m so grateful to her for creating this happy opportunity for us.”
Kazuo Horita, 63, who lost his daughter Megumi, then 19, paused by the spot where her name is engraved on the memorial wall to lay flowers with his wife.
“The family is all doing well,” he said quietly, speaking to Megumi.
The Horita family also laid flowers on behalf of the “Southern Cross Parents Association,” a group of seven families from Japan’s Toyama Prefecture who also lost their children in the earthquake.
Earlier in the day, family members of the victims held a private memorial service at Avonhead Cemetery, where Taigen Goto, a temple priest from Iwate Prefecture, read a prayer for the Japanese lives lost.
In November, New Zealand police announced they would not pursue a criminal prosecution in relation to the collapse of the CTV Building, citing a lack of evidence to provide a reasonable prospect of court conviction.
The families, who have been vocal in their disappointment with the police’s decision, are seeking legal advice to see if there is any possibility of pursuing a judicial review in the High Court.
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