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New Zealand: Christchurch

16th November 2012

The Prince takes to the dance floor in Christchurch

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Despite the devastation caused by the earthquake of February 2011, the mood in Christchurch was full of positivity when The Prince and The Duchess visited today.

After a mihi whakatau (Maori welcome) at the Christchurch city council building, Their Royal Highnesses met those injured in the earthquake.

Many had been crushed, one woman by a six tonne beam, some were in wheelchairs, and some had had limbs amputated. Afterwards The Prince and The Duchess drove around the red zone with the Prime Minister John Key, to receive a briefing on the worst damaged area of the city. They then visited the Cashell Mall where freight containers have been painted in bright colours and transformed into independent shops.

Music thronged the city with bands playing 1940s swing jazz music. Their Royal Highnesses showed their lighter side when they took to the dance floor in Christchurch today.

The dancefloor is a pop-up facility called Dance-O-Mat, created by the charitable trust Gap Filler, which has coin operated lighting and sound courtesy of a washing machine that plays tunes from an mp3 player

. For almost two years the organisation has been finding creative uses for open spaces left following the earthquake that struck Christchurch in September 2010 and the second deadly quake in February 2011 that claimed more than 180 lives.

The Duchess was the first to take to the dance floor after she accepted an invitation from Sam Johnson, an undergraduate who was widely praised for organising a student volunteer army to help in the aftermath of the devastating natural disaster. The Duchess, who is well known fan of the BBC's celebrity ballroom dancing show Strictly Come Dancing, held the student's right hand with hers and they moved at a gentle pace.

After a few moments Her Royal Highness looked over to her husband who was watching from the sidelines and said "Come on darling you've got to dance too".

But it was Lisa Shannon, 57, a psychology student from Christchurch who seized the moment and asked The Prince if he wanted to dance.

Ms Shannon was out of breath after the impromptu dance lesson from The Prince and said: "If you don't ask you don't get, I just saw him standing there looking a bit lonely and I thought I'd ask him to dance."

The royal couple's twirl on the dancefloor came after they visited a shopping area of Christchurch city centre to see how retailers and independent business forced out of their premises by the earthquake have set up home in renovated cargo ship containers. The Re:Start project has seen the large metal boxes brightly painted, fitted with doors and windows and stacked up to create temporary retails spaces.

Shoppers crowed round as Their Royal Highnesses walked along Cashel Street meeting retailers in their new homes. A reminder of the earthquake loomed nearby - a large building being torn down by mechanical equipment. Survivors of the natural disaster had earlier told The Prince and The Duchess their harrowing stories during a reception at Christchurch City Council offices.

Their Royal Highnesses privately met around 20 people who had been badly injured when buildings collapsed during the 6.3 magnitude earthquake which struck at 12.51pm on February 22, last year. Widespread damage resulted especially in central Christchurch and its eastern suburbs as the quake's epicentre was close to the middle of the city and buildings had been weakened by the 2010 quake.

More than half the people killed were in the six-storey Canterbury Television Building, which collapsed and caught fire.

Bev Edwards, 54, a nurse from Christchurch is now a paraplegic in a wheelchair after a cafe roof collapsed on her while she was having lunch with her mother.

Ms Edwards said: "I was in cafeteria deemed to be safe but the building next door fell sideways onto it and the roof came in. "I knew I had broken my back and I was eventually carried out on a door used as a stretcher. The lady at a table next to me was killed and my mother sat opposite me and was able to walk out.

"It's incredibly important The Prince came to meet us, we're not people that died we're here, but there hasn't been a lot of recognition for the seriously injured."

The Prince and The Duchess's visit to Christchurch came on the last day of their Diamond Jubilee tour to mark The Queen's 60-year reign that saw them visit Australia and Papua New Guinea.

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