New Zealand paused for two minutes' silence Wednesday to mark the first anniversary of the devastating Christchurch earthquake which left 185 people dead.
At 12:51 pm (2351 GMT Tuesday), the moment the 6.3-magnitude earthquake hit New Zealand's second largest city and sent buildings crashing down onto lunchtime crowds, the nation fell quiet to honor the dead.
About 60,000 people gathered for a solemn memorial at Christchurch's Hagley Park, where families of the victims locked arms and bowed their heads.
Some wept while others closed their eyes in prayer, with only the sound of a crying baby breaking the silence.
At the service, Governor-General Jerry Mateparae read a message of condolence from Prince Charles and a video address from U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who visited the city just before the disaster, was played.
"Even those if us who were far away on that terrible day share your grief and we know it's been a struggle," she said.
"But through that struggle we've seen the strength and perseverance of the people of Christchurch."
Earlier, Prime Minister John Key told a memorial service for victims' families that the earthquake was "one of our darkest days".
Key said the earthquake "wreaked havoc on an unimaginable scale", changing Christchurch forever.
"It twisted buildings, tore up roads, destroyed homes and shook us to the core," he told the multi-faith service. "Worst of all it stole 185 loved ones from us and injured so many more."
Key recalled visiting the city's Latimer Square in the hours after the quake, as fires raged in collapsed buildings, choking dust filled the air, sirens blared and aftershocks continued to rattle the city.
"It was New Zealand, but not a New Zealand I've ever seen before... the earthquake took everyday life in Canterbury and tossed it on its head, but it could not break the spirit you are famous for," he said.
Key also acknowledged frustration among Christchurch residents at delays to a NZ$30 billion ($25 billion) rebuilding program amid ongoing aftershocks, including major tremors in June and December which caused further damage.
"We have a long journey ahead of us," he said, reiterating the government's determination to rebuild the South Island city.
Underlining his words, a 2.9 magnitude aftershock, minor by Christchurch standards, struck about 10 kilometers (six miles) off the coast near Christchurch about 20 minutes after the ceremony concluded.
Key also paid tribute to emergency workers from New Zealand and overseas for their efforts in responding to the disaster.
"February 22 will forever be one of the darkest days in this proud nation's history," he said.
"It will also be a day when, at the worst of all times, the best of the human spirit was on display. That spirit is something no earthquake can take away."
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