by Cui Yuanlei
ST. JOHN'S, Antigua and Barbuda, Sept. 30 (Xinhua) -- "I have never been so close to danger, even when I was in Afghanistan," 40-year-old Ge Jianping said, still traumatized by his close encounter with Hurricane Maria in Dominica.
The category 5 storm devastated the tiny Caribbean island on Sept. 18, killing at least 15 people, leaving 20 missing, and paralyzing the infrastructure, including electricity and water supplies as well as communications.
Ge, deputy manager at China Railway 14th Bureau Group, had been involved in building a bridge in Dominica, a Chinese government assistance project. He had worked on similar projects in five countries, including Afghanistan, for nearly 13 years and had seen adverse situations but the aftermath of the hurricane still had the power to leave him shellshocked.
"Dominica had a forest cover rate of nearly 80 percent. But the next morning ... I could barely see anything green," he recalled.
Ge was among the over 400 Chinese who were given shelter in Antigua and Barbuda, arriving here in two batches after the storm. The local Chinese community and Chinese companies working here have welcomed them with open arms, chipping in to provide food and accommodation.
One group of the evacuees have been put up at the base camp of China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation (CCECC) here.
Chen Sichang, deputy manager of CCECC, said the base camp comprising 10 portable dwellings had been set up to accommodate the workers building the V.C. Bird International Airport.
The airport was built and handed over to the local government and began operations nearly two years ago. But the camp was not dismantled as a small number of the workers stayed on to provide technological support.
Now it is serving another useful purpose, taking in some of the arrivals from Dominica. Though the accommodation part was comparatively easy, Chen had a hectic time organizing logistics to meet the basic needs of so many people, from getting pillows and quilts to obtaining food and even drinking water.
"They suffered both physically and psychologically after the hurricane," Chen said, explaining that is why it was necessary to make them feel welcome and be put at ease.
Some of the other evacuees have been put up near the downtown area of the capital, hosted by Li Yucheng, chief of the local Chinese association. About 40 people were accommodated on the second floor of a building Li had originally rented for business expansion.
Li, who has been living in Antigua and Barbuda for over 20 years,owns a supermarket. He told Xinhua he was impressed by the local Chinese community.
The nearly 250-member strong community has donated money and materials unstintedly, no matter whether rich or poor, after learning that several of their countrymen would be arriving from Dominica and would need to be looked after, Li said.
Jiang Litao, who had made Dominica his home for 20 years and was running a small hotel and restaurant there, said he appreciated the efforts of Li and the local Chinese community.
He said his wife and he left Dominica "just like refugees fleeing from calamities" and could carry few of their possessions with them. "It is Mr. Li and so many other kind-hearted people who prepared everything ... and made us feel at home," he said.
Jiang also said that Antigua and Barbuda felt like a safe haven. "Compared with what we experienced in Dominica, it is like paradise here," he said, tears coming into his eyes.
Jiang said he had offered to work at Li's supermarket to show his gratitude but Li refused, insisting that the visitors rest and treat their new place "just like home".
Wang Xianmin, the Chinese ambassador to Antigua and Barbuda, said thanks to the efforts of the Chinese companies here and the local Chinese community, the 400 people rescued from Dominica had a sense of security and warmth even though they were thousands of miles away from home.
They will soon be able to go home, Wang promised. Two chartered planes funded by CCECC are due to arrive in Antigua and Barbuda to transport most of the evacuees back to China.