Prince William offers sympathy for Japan 'horror'

18th March 2011, Comments 0 comments

Prince William offered condolences Friday for the "horror" engulfing Japan, as he paid tribute to victims of last month's Christchurch earthquake in New Zealand.

"This community, more than any other in the world, can appreciate the full horror of what is unfolding in Japan. Our thoughts and prayers are with them too," the prince told a memorial service in the stricken New Zealand city.

Speaker after speaker at the service attended by more than 30,000 people raised quake and tsunami-hit Japan's predicament, saying Christchurch shared a bond with the country as the city reels from its own tragedy.

"Even today as we mourn here, we think of Japan's desperate plight," Prime Minister John Key said. The New Zealand quake claimed an estimated 182 lives.

"For the people of Christchurch, who have lived through two large earthquakes and many thousands of aftershocks, these images from Japan bring flooding back the raw emotional pain that accompanies such a devastating event."

The prince, wearing a Maori cloak, told the emotionally charged service that the world had watched Christchurch's response to the 6.3-magnitude tremor with awe and admiration.

"You are an inspiration to all people... in the last two days, I've heard tales of great tragedy, but also of extraordinary bravery and selfless courage," he said.

The 28-year-old offered a simple message from Queen Elizabeth II and the rest of the royal family -- "kia kaha" -- Maori for "be strong".

Search and rescue teams, who have worked around the clock helping Christchurch's recovery, received a standing ovation from the crowd as they filed into the city's Hagley Park for the service.

The memorial culminated in two minutes' silence across New Zealand at 12:51pm (2351 GMT Thursday), the exact time the deadly quake devastated the country's second largest city on February 22.

Prince William, Key and Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard stood with their heads bowed as members of the crowd wept and hugged one another.

Key said the quake that razed Christchurch had scarred the nation.

"It felled buildings, destroyed roads, caused terrible injuries and tore up the very earth we walk upon," he said.

"It has left scars that will never be erased from our land, or from our hearts."

Prince William wandered amid the rubble of central Christchurch to inspect the damage first hand on Thursday, describing the scale of devastation as "unbelievable".

Aftershocks continued to rumble through the city on the day of the service, with seismologists reporting three minor shakes on Friday, further jarring residents' already stretched nerves.

The trip to Christchurch is the first stop on a five-day tour of disaster-hit areas of New Zealand and Australia, intended to convey the royals' support for people struggling to recover from a string of recent catastrophes. He also visited Greymouth on Thursday, where 29 miners died late last year when a gas explosion tore through the Pike River colliery.

The second in line to the throne departs for Australia on Saturday morning, where he will tour flood and cyclone ravaged Queensland and Victoria.

He is travelling without his bride-to-be Kate Middleton, whom he will marry on April 29, because his visit is classed as an official royal tour.

Queen Elizabeth II is the official head of state of New Zealand and Australia, which are both former British colonies and members of the Commonwealth.

© 2011 AFP

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