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The restoration of a resting place

More than 100 niches in Pahiatua’s columbarium wall are being replaced after the wall collapsed in strong winds. PHOTOS/SUPPLIED

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Families will soon have the remains of their loved ones reinstated to a columbarium wall at Pahiatua-Mangatainoka Cemetery.

Tararua District Council [TDC] said a rebuild of the cemetery’s columbarium – which collapsed in September last year in more than 150kmh winds – was well under way and due for completion by the end of the month.

“We didn’t lose anybody, which is a huge benefit,” TDC infrastructure group manager Chris Chapman said.

“A ceremony will take place once the rebuild is finished, and we will re-enter those ashes into the new columbarium.”

In total, 102 niches were being replaced.

South Ward councillor Alison Franklin took on the job of finding families to tell them what had happened.

“It cannot be understated, the work that Alison and co put into that,” Chapman said.

“It involved international searching in some cases.”

Franklin said the process was extremely time-consuming.

She said the South Ward councillors were mindful of the situation’s sensitivity.

“We four women [councillors] worked together to track down the families.

“It was an incredibly moving experience.”

It took a week for Franklin and her colleagues to track everyone down.

“We got to speak to some incredible people, and everybody was wonderful. Everybody was grateful for the way it was handled.

“We even used the police to find one gentleman.”

Franklin tracked down and reached out to the families of 102 people, making sure that everyone was in the loop.

“We offered them all the opportunity to come and visit to see the damage first-hand,” she said.

“We brought each niche out individually and gave the family time with them.

“There were some very moving moments there. It brought up the sadness of the past.

“The key focus was really about keeping the memory of those people in the niches safe and protected.”

Franklin and her colleagues allowed families to update the plaques of their loved ones.

Chapman said another two columbarium walls did not collapse. Families of the deceased in these walls were also reassured that their loved ones were safe and sound.

“We had an engineering assessment around the remaining sections, and they are doing some structural strengthening of those to ensure that we don’t have to do this again.”

Chapman said a large group pitched in to collect all 102 niche blocks in strong winds and near darkness, and temporarily relocated them.

The Pahiatua marae kaumātua blessed both the site of the incident and the temporary relocation site.

“We worked with local tangata whenua to bless the sight before we did anything,” Chapman said.

“It’s one of those things where there are no real case studies.”

“There’s no precedent about what’s right and wrong. But it worked seamlessly and was a huge team effort under very tragic and trying circumstances.”

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