| Madeleine Coorey |
SYDNEY (AFP) – Tearful Sydney office workers and Muslim women in hijabs laid flowers Tuesday at the scene of a deadly siege, as an outpouring of grief and shock gripped the usually easy-going harbour city.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott joined the outpouring of national mourning and laid a bouquet at Martin Place, the plaza in Sydney’s financial and shopping district where the crisis occurred that has since become the site of a makeshift memorial.
Nearby florist kiosks struggled to keep up with demand as well-wishers created a sea of bouquets in an impromptu memorial at Martin Place, the city square where the 16-hour drama unfolded.
“Just the fact that something like this has never happened before in Australia, and it just makes you feel so sad,” said Tom Harris, who works on the Sydney Harbour Bridge, as he approached with a large bouquet.
“And I just feel so sad and just feel sorry for the poor people, especially at Christmas time.”
Emotions were raw as Australia dealt with the news that the Lindt chocolate cafe had been stormed in the early hours by heavily armed police, ending the siege in the heart of Sydney’s financial district.
Most of the hostages escaped but the cafe manager, 34, and a 38-year-old mother-of-three lay dead while six more people were injured, including three women with gunshot wounds.
The attack staged by Iranian-born extremist gunman Man Haron Monis, who also died, rocked the country. Sydney tabloid The Daily Telegraph conveyed the national mood with its front-page headline: “Evil Strikes Our Heart”.
Social media was flooded with expressions of fear and dismay, and pictures of the distinctive city harbour and skyline emblazoned with the hashtag #prayforSydney.
“I will ride with you”, read one note attached to a hand-picked bouquet in Martin Place, referring to the campaign for solidarity with the Muslim community that has seen tens of thousands tweet the hashtag #illridewithyou.
Flags on all government buildings were ordered to be flown at half mast.
“I don’t think I could be sadder,” New South Wales state Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione said as he looked at the floral tributes, where emotional onlookers sobbed.
“That’s the only thing we can do to show our feelings,” said Zully Carro, with tears in her eyes after placing flowers on the growing pile. “But to those kids who are not going to have a mother again, these flowers are not going to be any relief to them.”
While the siege was underway, Martin Place attracted curious onlookers. But on Tuesday the mood was sombre as hundreds of people, Prime Minister Tony Abbott among them, paid their respects and signed condolence books.
“It just doesn’t feel the same today. Martin Place is such a beautiful area but today I just feel numb,” said onlooker Terri Lucia.
“I just feel that we’ve lost something, something that I felt that we were protected from, and that’s… so upsetting. I feel we lost our innocence yesterday.”