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Unidentified quake victims laid to rest

Published: 7:04PM Tuesday February 21, 2012 Source: ONE News

The first of the official ceremonies has taken place as Christchurch remembers the horrors of the earthquake a year ago.
It was the opening of an interment site at Avonhead Park Cemetery for people who died in the earthquake on February 22 last year and followed a burial ceremony earlier in the day.

About 200 people gathered this evening to witness the official opening and dedication of the site. There was a mihi, prayers and a welcome from the Bishop of Christchurch before a central plinth at the site was unveiled by the mayor.

This morning, the unidentified remains of the quake victims were interred at the site, alongside momentos from four of the unfound victims of the quake.

It was a private ceremony in a peaceful garden setting away from the public gaze for the victims of the CTV building who were never formally identified.

Alongside the grave are four memorial plaques, and inside are personal mementoes of each of the four.

For the families of 40-year-old Shawn Lucas, 41-year-old Veleri Volnov, Rhea Mae Sumalpong of the Philippines and Peruvian New Zealander Elsa Torres de Frood, it was a chance to gather, grieve and gain strength from each other.

For Sandy Dawson, Shawn Lucas' mother, the interment was painful but also a time of solace.
"At least the fact that they died together and the remains can be buried together will be some closure," she said.

"I just hang on to the belief that some of those remains are his. As hard as it is, I need to be there. It's like a final goodbye."

Their resting place is a purpose-built extension of the nine-year-old Avonhead cemetery.

It has room for more than 200 quake victims. So far, 16 families have chosen to have memorial plaques erected, including for 14 Chinese students who died in the CTV building. 

The interment site's inner and outer circle design reflects elements from the Christchurch central business district.

The four quadrants of the site are representative of the four avenues inside the heart of Christchurch, said Mike Hannaway of the Christchurch City Council.

"All of the victims here, the unidentified and the unfound, were all from inside the four avenues," Hannaway said.

A stainless steel band around the site's central circle has text which reads: The people of Christchurch will forever remember the unfound victims of the 22 February 2011 earthquake."

For families, the interment site is a haven to call their own. 

"It'll be a place to go when we go to Christchurch," Sandy Dawson said.

It is a place, she said, where her son can finally be at peace.

The city council says it has had expressions of interest from 30 New Zealand and overseas families so far to either have the remains of their loved ones or part of the remains of their loved ones, or just a plaque, erected at the interment site.

Many have already chosen to bury their relatives, including many buried at the Avonhead Park Cemetery, and others have their loved one's ashes at home.

But the council says the families may choose to also have a plaque erected at the interment site in memory of their loved one.

The Christchurch Civic Memorial Service will be live on TV ONE and tvnz.co.nz from noon Wednesday.

You can find all the tvnz.co.nz coverage of the anniversary here