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September 23, 2017

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Charles voices shock in quake-scarred Christchurch

CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand -- Prince Charles expressed shock on Friday at the devastation that still scars Christchurch, the New Zealand city rocked by an earthquake last year that claimed 185 lives.

On the final day of a Pacific tour marking Queen Elizabeth II's Diamond Jubilee, Charles and his wife Camilla visited the South Island city's "red zone," the downtown area that bore the brunt of the quake on Feb. 22, 2011.

Prime Minister John Key showed the British royal couple around the ruins of his hometown, where shattered office blocks are still being demolished as part of a NZ$30 billion (US$24.3 billion) reconstruction.

"They've been really touched," Key told reporters. "I was in the van with them and they were shocked at the devastation and the experiences meeting the victims of the quake."

Charles had a private meeting with around 20 people who were seriously injured in the quake and he also visited damaged homes, which residents are still trying to rebuild.

But there were lighter moments too as the royals were greeted by thousands of well-wishers at Cashel Mall, a shopping precinct that has been temporarily rebuilt using brightly-colored shipping containers to house its stores.

"We only really came here for the beer," Charles joked with one onlooker.

The couple also went for a twirl on the city's "dance-o-mat," a makeshift outdoor dance space.

Local resident Lisa Shannon coaxed Charles onto the dance-floor, while Sam Johnson, who used social media to organize a post-quake cleanup group called the Student Volunteer Army, went for a spin with Camilla.

Johnson said it was a welcome moment of levity in the city.

"It shows we're going through a new phase — we're celebrating the small things as we're going through the rebuild," he said.

"Asking the Duchess of Cornwall to dance was a bit unexpected but I thought 'why not?'"

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