NZ mourns quake dead with 2 minutes of silence

CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand (AP) - New Zealand held two minutes of silence Tuesday to mourn as many as 240 people killed when a powerful earthquake struck the city of Christchurch exactly one week earlier.

Rescue crews still picking through the rubble were among those who stopped work and bowed their heads at 12:51 p.m., along with millions of other people across the country.

The magnitude 6.3 quake struck within a few miles (kilometers) of downtown Christchurch, when the southern city of 350,000 was bustling with workers, shoppers and tourists going about their activities. It brought down or badly damaged office towers, churches and thousands of homes across the city in one of New Zealand's worst disasters.

As an international team of urban disaster specialists continued to pick through the wreckage Tuesday, police again raised the official death toll, saying the number of bodies pulled from the rubble had reached 154.

Police Superintendent Dave Cliff said a substantial number of people were still missing a week after the disaster, and that the total number of those killed could end up being much higher.

"I think we need to start considering that the figure of around 240 (is) not locked in stone because we are still getting information which is taking people off the list and sometimes adding others on," Cliff told reporters.

Prime Minister John Key called on all New Zealanders to stop what they were doing and join the commemoration "as a sign of unity for the people of Canterbury who are enduring a tragedy beyond what most of us can imagine." Canterbury is the region where Christchurch is located.

In the city, police, officials dressed in reflective vests and residents stood quietly, some with heads bowed, others clutching friends and family. At the end of the two minutes, a voice over a loudspeaker thanked people for taking part, and the officials went back to work.

"We have lost people, the city is wrecked, it will be a moment of emotion and pain," Christchurch Mayor Bob Parker said before the ceremony.

On Monday, a 5-month-old boy who was the youngest known victim of the disaster was its first laid to rest, given a farewell by grieving relatives who clutched stuffed toys and draped his tiny coffin in a comforter.


Associated Press writer Ray Lilley in Wellington, New Zealand, contributed to this report.


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