Sun, February 22, 2009
World > Asia-Pacific

Australia holds national mourning day after fires

2009-02-22 11:19:39 GMT2009-02-22 19:19:39 (Beijing Time)  Xinhua English

Australia's Prime Minister Kevin Rudd mourns at a National Day of Mourning ceremony in Melbourne February 22, 2009. Australians observed a day of mourning on Sunday for the more than 200 people killed in this month's bushfire disaster, with thousands attending solemn ceremonies across the country. (Xinhua//AFP Photo)

People lay flowers to the wreath during a memorial service for the national Day of Mourning at Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne, Australia, Sunday, Feb. 22, 2009, for the tragic events of the Victorian wildfires that killed more than 200 people. (Xinhua//AFP Photo)

A view of National Day of Mourning at Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne, Australia, Sunday, Feb. 22, 2009, for the tragic events of the Victorian wildfires that killed more than 200 people.(Xinhua/AFP Photo)

Victoria Gov. David de Kretser, right, Britain's Princess Anne, center, and Governor-General Quentin Bryce add flowers to the wreath during a memorial service for the national Day of Mourning at Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne, Australia, on Sunday, Feb. 22, 2009, for the tragic events of the Victorian wildfires that killed more than 200 people. (AP Photo/Michael Silver)

Children lays flowers on a wreath during the National Mourning Day service for bushfire victims at the Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne, Australia, Sunday, Feb. 22, 2009. (AP Photo/Andrew Brownbill)

MELBOURNE, Australia, Feb. 22 (Xinhua) -- Bells sounded in Australia on Sunday to mark the beginning of the memorial service to remember those who died in Victoria's bushfires.

"We are picking up the pieces after the worst natural disaster in Australia's history," Victorian Premier John Brumby said in the memorial on Sunday.

Tens of thousands have gathered in Melbourne's Rod Laver Arena, including Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, Victorian Premier John Brumby, Governor-General Quentin Bryce, British Princess Anne, Catholic leader Archbishop Denis Hart, together with hundreds of bushfire survivors.

At the mourning service, Rudd stated that since Australian's reaction to the bushfires was impressive, Black Saturday saw the worst of nature but the best of humanity.

"In some countries tragedy exposes the faultiness in a nation. The strong abandoning the weak. One region indifferent to the sufferings of another. One culture uncaring as to the needs of another. But ours is a different nation. Our nation has been as one. Australia, a nation of compassion," Rudd said.

Australian flags will fly at half mast every year on February 7,Rudd vowed in the memorial.

British Princess Anne, representing Queen Elizabeth and the royal family, expressed her appreciations on all Australians who have involved in whatever capacity, in the emergency services and in the voluntary organizations.

"People from around Australia and across the world watched in horror, but with admiration at their response," Princess Anne said. She will visit fire-affected areas later in the day.

Many of those at the service have also worn the distinctive yellow overalls of the firefighters to show their supports.

The service ended with the song Touch sung by Michael Paynter, which urged people to reach out to those in need.

"We cannot build lost lives, but we can enshrine the memory of those we have lost in our hearts. And we can hold fast to the things that they loved," Victoria Police Chief Commissioner Christine Nixon concluded.

Victoria's bushfires is the deadliest bushfire in Australian history with at least 209 being killed. More than 1,800 homes have been destroyed and more than 450,000 hectares burnt out in the bushfires which started on Feb. 7.

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