New Zealand earthquake victims were remembered with a two-minute silence across the country, marking one week since Christchurch was gripped by devastation.

The heavy tools of the rescue teams rested from 12.51pm, New Zealand paused in memory of the 155 people confirmed dead from the magnitude 6.3 tremor, which has been described as New Zealand’s darkest tragedy.

Before the two-minute silence, a traditional Maori lament keened across a sombre Parliament House in the capital, Wellington, and flags were lowered to half-mast.

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The first to be interred was the earthquake’s youngest victim, five-month-old Baxtor Gowland, who was born two weeks after a previous earthquake in September.

More than 200 mourners turned up at the service in the suburb of Riccarton.

Baxtor’s tiny white coffin was carried into a waiting hearse, but the sight overwhelmed a female police officer who left the ceremony in tears.

Tributes to the baby flooded into a Facebook site.

Charlotte Foote, a friend of Baxtor’s mother Breanna, wrote: “Love you so much precious angel, you be good up there OK.”

As the death toll was expected to rise to 240, Prime Minister John Key announced a financial relief package to help companies pay staff whose workplaces have been destroyed.

He said the city would take between five and 10 years to rebuild, at a cost of up to £7billion.

Officials revealed that cordoned off blocks in the city centre could remain closed for several months.

As search and rescue workers combed through the rubble and the ceaseless aftershocks continued, more tales of heroism emerged.

Brian Coker, who was freed from rubble when two doctors amputated both of his legs, told how he sat trapped, in agonising pain and waiting for death, until his rescuers arrived.

“I just wanted there to be a decent aftershock to finish it,” he said.

Anxious relatives have expressed frustration at the long wait for the dead to be officially identified, but police insisted their painstaking work allowed no room for mistakes. Britain is sending a team of specialists skilled in victim identification to assist with the grim task.