Infant Boy Is First New Zealand Earthquake Victim Laid to Rest

February 28, 2011 - 6:31 AM

New Zealand earthquake

Crushed cars amid the rubble in a Christchurch suburb following last Tuesday's magnitude 6.3 earthquake in New Zealand. (AP Photo/Mark Baker)

Christchurch, New Zealand (AP) - The baby boy who is the youngest known victim of New Zealand's earthquake disaster was its first laid to rest, given a farewell Monday by grieving relatives who clutched stuffed toys and draped his tiny coffin in a comforter.

Baxtor Gowland, 5 months old, was sleeping in his home in the southern city of Christchurch when he was killed by masonry shaken loose by the quake that hit with sudden and brutal force last Tuesday, the family told The Associated Press. He died in a hospital.

Authorities have named just eight victims of the disaster -- Gowland and another infant among them -- and say they are struggling to identify many of the 140 other bodies pulled from the rubble because of the extent of their injuries.

Dozens of Gowland's family and friends, most wearing baby-blue ribbons pinned to their mourning black, gathered at a small chapel. A slideshow of the smiling infant's photographs flashed on a screen as Sarah McLachlan's song "Angel" echoed throughout the room.

After the ceremony, the tiny white casket, bearing a wreath of white flowers and draped at one end in a light-blue comforter, was carried by a single pallbearer to a waiting car. His mother watched, clutching a dark blue stuffed toy.

"Bax you are forever in our hearts we will always love you xo," the boy's father Shaun McKenna wrote on a Facebook tribute page, under a photo he uploaded of his son. "To The little man who made everyone smile who met him, may you look down upon us and help us remember your beautiful face."

Peter Croft, the child's great-uncle, read a statement to the AP thanking people from New Zealand and around the world for their support but asking for privacy during the funeral.

The official death toll from the quake rose to 148 on Monday after another body was found, and grave fears are held for about 50 other people who are unaccounted for, police Superintendent David Cliff said.

Among the dead or missing are dozens of foreign students, mostly Japanese and Chinese, from an international language school inside an office building that collapsed with up to 120 people inside. As many as 22 other people may be buried in rubble at Christchurch Cathedral, most of them believed to be tourists climbing the bell tower for its panoramic views of the southern New Zealand city.

Distraught relatives, including many who flew in from overseas last week, met with officials again on Monday hoping for news on the identification process. "The waiting is the agonizing part," Cliff said.

The multinational team of more than 600 rescuers scrabbling through wrecked buildings in the decimated central area of the city last pulled a survivor from the ruins at mid-afternoon Wednesday, making it six days without finding anyone alive.

Prime Minister John Key announced the first package of financial measures aimed to help the stricken city get back on its feet -- subsidies for employers worth 120 million New Zealand dollars ($90 million) to help pay salaries for some 50,000 people unable to go to work because of damage from the quake.

"It is designed to immediately put money into peoples' pockets and give them some confidence," Key said at a news conference in Wellington after a Cabinet meeting.

Key also said the expected economic cost of the earthquake saying was "in the order" of NZ$20 billion ($15 billion). Analysts had earlier put the cost at up to $12 billion.

He has vowed that Christchurch will be rebuilt, and to building standards that can withstand major earthquakes. Many of the buildings that collapsed or were badly damaged were built before New Zealand upgraded building codes to guard against quake damage in the 1970s.

Key said long-term measures being considered include an extra levy on all householders under New Zealand's compulsory quake insurance system to raise the estimated $4 billion needed to cover an insurance shortfall. A rise in the levy was not immediately announced.

Two minutes of silence will be observed on Tuesday, exactly one week after the disaster struck.

Engineers and planners say the city's decimated central area may be completely unusable for months to come and that at least a third of the buildings may have to be razed.

Steve McCarthy, the district council's chief engineer, said all buildings downtown in Christchurch met with the minimum requirement of international construction standards, but this was not enough to cope with the power of an earthquake as close and shallow as last week's temblor.

"It vertically lifted the ground and buildings and then dumped them back on the ground at two times the force of gravity," McCarthy said. "Consequently the buildings have failed, and it couldn't have been expected and it certainly wasn't designed for it."

Power and water supplies were gradually being restored to the city, though the clean-up efforts were being hampered by heavy layers of silt thrown up by the quake that are now caking in many places.

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Associated Press writers Steve McMorran in Christchurch, New Zealand, and Ray Lilley in Wellington, New Zealand, contributed to this report.