Prince William meets quake-hit Christchurch locals

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Prince William toured one of earthquake-hit Christchurch's most damaged suburbs Friday, ahead of a memorial service for those killed in New Zealand's most deadly disaster for 80 years.

The Prince joked with locals in the beachside suburb of Sumner, which was peppered with flying boulders from nearby hilltops when the 6.3-magnitude quake hit last month, and he posed for pictures, telling one man he was keen for a surf.

The 28-year-old, who is travelling without his bride-to-be Kate Middleton, will represent Queen Elizabeth II at a memorial service for the 180-plus people who died when the tremor flattened office blocks and tore homes apart.

New Zealand Prime Minister John Key and his Australian counterpart Julia Gillard will also attend the service, which is expected to draw tens of thousands into Christchurch's Hagley Park.

The memorial will culminate in two minutes' silence at 12:51 pm (2351 GMT Thursday), the exact time the deadly tremor hit New Zealand's second largest city on February 22.

"For most there's a chance to park up these feelings of grief into a day where everyone acknowledges everyone is suffering," Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee said. "We're all in this together."

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

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 disasters.

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 visit flood and cyclone ravaged Queensland and Victoria.

He is travelling without 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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