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Silence observed for quake victims

The nation of New Zealand has observed a two-minute silence to mourn as many as 240 people who died in the Christchurch earthquake exactly one week ago.

At the site of the country’s worst-ever natural disaster, rescue crews switched off their pneumatic drills and stood with their heads bowed to remember those who perished when the quake struck.

Last Tuesday the shallow 6.3 magnitude quake made office blocks collapse and sent bricks and other rubble tumbling into the streets.

At 12.51pm local time church bells tolled throughout the country at the start of a national commemoration.

The southern city of Christchurch saw people in their thousands gather in groups, or stand on their own, to pay their respects.

Bulldozers and diggers being used to pull away the massive piles of rubble came to a standstill.

Prime minister John Key asked the entire 4.5M population of New Zealand to join in a show of unity for people “enduring tragedy beyond what most of us can imagine”. Flags flew at half mast everywhere across the country.

Police say they have pulled 154 bodies from the wreckage and the number of others missing and feared dead indicated a final death toll higher than previously thought. “The figure … of around 240 is solidifying,” Superintendent Dave Cliff said.

The magnitude 6.3 quake struck within a few miles of central Christchurch, when the city of 350,000 was bustling with workers, shoppers and tourists. It brought down or badly damaged office towers, churches and thousands of homes across the city in one of New Zealand’s worst disasters.

More than 900 international urban disaster specialists are among hundreds more local officials who are continuing to pick through the wreckage. No-one has been pulled out alive since the day after the quake and officials say it is almost certain no-one else will be.

New Zealand urban search and rescue teams co-ordinator Jim Steward-Black said: “Realistically it would be a miracle if we encountered anyone at this stage on any of the sites which we are currently working on.”

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