Christchurch commemorates anniversary of devastating earthquake


Rescue workers search for survivors through the debris on February 22, 2011 in Christchurch, New Zealand. The 6.3 magnitude earthquake - an aftershock of the 7.1 magnitude quake on September 4 - struck 20km southeast of Christchurch at around 1 p.m. local time.


Martin Hunter

New Zealand marked the one-year anniversary of the devastating Christchurch earthquake Wednesday, which killed 185 people and devastated buildings and homes throughout the city. 

On February 22 last year, a 6.8 magnitude quake tore through Christchurch for mere seconds, but did damage that the city is still struggling to repair, CNN reported. Almost two-thirds of the deaths during the quake happened when the six-story Canterbury Television (CTV) building collapsed. The natural disaster is considered the country's worst in 80 years.

"There is no arguing that February 22, 2011 will go down in the history of New Zealand as one of our darkest days," said Prime Minister John Key on the eve of the anniversary, CNN reported. 

Hundreds of people, including about 300 family members of the earthquake's victims, gathered in Christchurch's Latimer Square to commemorate their loved ones, The Australian reported

More from GlobalPost: Series of earthquakes hits Christchurch, New Zealand

"This is a heavy day - heavy with emotion, heavy with loss, heavy with memories, heavy with sights that we were never prepared to see," Christchurch's Mayor Bob Parker told those gathered in Latimer Square, which was transformed into a triage medical center in the hours that followed the quake, according to the Australian. 

There are also memorials being held across the country, including in the cities of Auckland, Wanganui and Wellington, BBC News reported

"It's the least you can do," 70-year-old Sheila Carney, who attended the memorial, told the New Zealand Herald. "No one wants to be doing this today, but it's healthy. It's part of the grieving process.'' 

Carney said she couldn't bear to come to the memorial last March, but now has vowed to attend ceremonies marking the natural disaster every year.

Christchurch's recovery efforts have been slowed by frequent aftershocks, CNN reported. The February 22 quake was actually an aftershock from a magnitude 7.1 quake the previous September.

The government estimated that there have been 10,000 quakes since last September, including 39 of a magnitude of five or greater, according to CNN. 

More from GlobalPost: New Zealand reels after 6.3-magnitude earthquake devastates Christchurch (PHOTOS) 

"We had a really good run from June until December 23, then we got hit with a magnitude six quake, two days before Christmas. It really, really set people back," Matt O'Connell, the earthquake recovery coordinator for the Catholic Diocese, told CNN. "There was further damage, no one was injured, but it was a psychological blow for many people." 

After the quake, many believed that residents would leave New Zealand's second-largest city, but only 10,000 of the population of 500,000 have left, BBC reported. Mayor Parker said he sees this as "the greatest vote of confidence" that Christchurch can fully recover. 

The city is now recruiting thousands of workers to help with its $24.4 billion (NZ$30 billion) rebuilding effort, according to BBC.