Family reunion
Chinese survivors of Hurricane Maria return just in time for Mid-Autumn Festival
Published: Oct 10, 2017 06:23 PM
Mid-Autumn Festival means family reunion for many Chinese people. This year, the festival fell on October 4 and became part of the weeklong National Day holiday. To most, it's an opportunity to take an extended overseas journey, an urban life escape into China's vast countryside or simply a "staycation" at home for some sufficient rest and relaxation.

But for 381 Chinese nationals affected by the Hurricane Maria in the Caribbean, where the fatal hurricane claimed at least 15 lives in September, this year's holiday was a truly special occasion.

Maria strengthened to the highest-level Category 5 on September 18 after making landfall on the island of Dominica. Most infrastructure was damaged and there was no electricity or even enough food and drinking water for everyone trapped on the island. Approximately 400 Chinese workers were participating in construction projects on the island at that time. 

Barbuda and Antigua were among the least-hit areas of the region. The Chinese workers made every effort to get to one of those two islands for shelter via ship, with the help of Ministry of Foreign Affairs of PRC and Ministry of Commerce of PRC.

Meanwhile, back in China, family members of those workers, their employers and foreign affairs authorities were also trying to find the best solutions for them. On September 29, two chartered planes from China Eastern Airlines were arranged to help bring them back home.

Exactly 381 of them arrived in China on October 1 after departing from V.C. Bird International Airport in Antigua and Barbuda.

Powerful home country

Zhang Haichang, a 54-year-old project manager from China Civil Engineer Construction Corp who was stationed on the island of Dominica, told the Global Times that it took his colleagues and him more than eight hours to walk from their devastated construction site to a safe place. There, they waited another three days for the ship to take them from Dominica to Barbuda or Antigua.

"I have been doing overseas projects for 14 years and was assigned to work in Dominica this June. I have never experienced such a terrible ­situation," Zhang told the Global Times.

"Thanks to our powerful home country, we ordinary Chinese people were taken good care of even in that remote corner of the world. We appreciate so much that we were transferred back to China so soon that we could spend Mid-Autumn Festival with our families," he said, adding that he is willing to return to Dominica to continue his project.

Hongqiao Station of Immigration Inspection witnessed the exciting and unforgettable moment when their flight landed at Shanghai Hongqiao International Airport. Wang Guohua, Chief of Hongqiao Station of ­Immigration Inspection, told the Global Times that his team felt responsible and proud to bear the task of greeting their compatriots upon their arrival home.

Wang said that although his team was informed of the task only three hours prior to their landing, careful and considerate arrangements were in place, as he had personal experience in greeting the Chinese nationals from the Libya ­retreat in 2011 while working in Shanghai Pudong International Airport.

With the help of big data and advanced technology and equipment, it took only 15 seconds for each passenger to pass the immigration inspection counter and an average of eight seconds to pass the automatic self-service machine.

Zhang Haichang told the Global Times that this National Day holiday and the Mid-Autumn Festival have a very unique meaning for him and the others, as nobody ever expected to be with their family members this year.

The worker sincerely expressed that from now on he would work even harder to help contribute to the global realization of the Chinese Dream.

Chinese workers wait to pass immigration inspection. Photo: Courtesy of Hongqiao Station of Immigration Inspection


Officials from Hongqiao Station of Immigration Inspection welcome the rescued workers. Photo: Courtesy of Hongqiao Station of Immigration Inspection

Workers hold a banner that says "Many thanks to our country for bringing us home!" Photo: Courtesy of Hongqiao Station of Immigration Inspection