18 Mar 2011

Prince's visit 'boosts families' spirits'

6:01 am on 18 March 2011

The families of the Pike River Coal mine workers say their spirits have been boosted by the visit to Greymouth of Prince William on Thursday.

The prince spent about two hours with families and other guests at the Shantytown heritage village.

A spokesperson, Bernie Monk, father of one of the 29 workers killed in the mine last year, said the prince talked to each of the 120 or so family members who gathered for his visit.

Mr Monk says the prince particularly made time to speak to children, who were charmed by his relaxed manner.

William flew to Greymouth from Christchurch with Prime Minister John Key.

Mr Monk says the visit was a boost to the spirits of families affected by the mine disaster.

Prince William was welcomed by Grey District Mayor Tony Kokshoorn who said Prince William showed the sort of compassion for which his mother, Princess Diana, was renowned.

The prince will return to Christchurch on Friday for an earthquake commemoration service.

Earlier, the prince was taken on a tour of Christchurch's quake-damaged central business district. He began his visit at the Christchurch Art Gallery, home to the Emergency Management Centre, where he was welcomed by Civil Defence National Controller John Hamilton.

He was accompanied by Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee and Christchurch Mayor Bob Parker, who said the prince's visit lifted people's spirits at a difficult time.

Hundreds of camera people and reporters gathered for the arrival.

Mr Parker assured the prince that the Emergency Management Centre was safe, having been built to high earthquake standards.

The prince then toured the red zone, including the damaged Christchurch Cathedral, and met firefighters and search and rescue teams.

Prince William congratulated Defence Force efforts after the earthquake, saying staff should be proud of their efforts.

Gift fund

Meanwhile, Prince William and his fiancee Kate Middleton have chosen the Christchurch Earthquake Appeal as one of a select group of charities in their royal wedding charitable gift fund.

The couple have asked that anyone wishing to give them a wedding gift consider donating instead to one of 26 charitable funds worldwide, including the quake appeal.

Prime Minister John Key says the gesture is a mark of great respect for New Zealand.