by Xinhua writer Cui Yuanlei
ST. JOHN'S, Antigua and Barbuda, Sept. 30 (Xinhua) -- "Welcome home!" China Eastern Airlines crew members greeted Chinese nationals who had been transferred here as two chartered planes landed at the V.C. Bird International Airport at St. John's, capital of Antigua and Barbuda.
Sheltered here after Hurricane Maria had devastated the Caribbean island of Dominica, 377 of the more than 400 Chinese are finally embarking on their way home.
Among them was Chen Gangjun, a 48-year-old man who had been engaged in construction work in Dominica, a Chinese government assistance project by China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation (CCECC).
"We began to load all the suitcases and luggage into the car and sent them to the airport in advance ... and then we prepared for breakfast for nearly 300 people at our base camp at about two o'clock," said Chen, adding that he did not sleep at all last night.
"Many of our fellow workers woke up very early and came to the canteen at four, much earlier than usual ... everybody is very excited and eager for home, they could not bear waiting anymore," he said. "I shared the same feeling with them, and I do not feel tired at all."
Sun Haojie, director of an agricultural program of Chinese aid to Dominica, is also waiting to board with his wife and his two-year-old son.
"I really want to express my gratitude for our motherland. Without joint efforts of so many departments, we would not be able to return home in such a short period of time," Sun said.
"My son seems to know the good news too, and he is particularly excited this morning and I just hope he will not be so bothered during the long flight," Sun laughed.
Meanwhile, the 64 China Eastern Airlines crew members had also fully prepared for the flight.
"The time for preparation is so limited that we took every minute to get familiar with the route, the airport, and all the information and scenarios that we could anticipate during the flight," said Guo Wanqing, one of the chief pilots in command.
"The flight will fly over 19 countries and the distance of the round trip is about 35,000 kilometers," said Guo. "We might not be able to send you to all the places around the world, but we are sure to have the ability to bring you back home when you are in trouble, wherever you are on Earth."
The V.C. Bird International Airport has substantial connections with China as its new terminal building was financed by the Chinese government and constructed by the CCECC, and officially put into operation on Aug. 20, 2015.
Embarking upon the journey back home, relief and anticipation are clearly written on the faces of the stranded Chinese.
Everyone was holding a small Chinese national flag as they entered the terminal, passed through the security check and boarded in order. Among them, a passenger held a sign saying "CCECC worker, gratitude towards the motherland."
The Antigua and Barbuda side played a crucial role in helping the Chinese Embassy get in touch with and transport the Chinese people stranded by Hurricane Irma.
Anthony Liverpool, director general of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Immigration and International Trade, has been overseeing the whole process at the airport.
"The government of Antigua and Barbuda has a very good relationship with the People's Republic of China. China has made significant contributions to the infrastructure development of Antigua and Barbuda and worked as a partner with Antigua as we strive to build our economy," he said.
"Therefore, it was very easy for Antigua and Barbuda to extend a helping hand in time of need to the people of China," he added."This is something that we think friends should do for friends."
Accompanying Liverpool was the Chinese Ambassador to Antigua and Barbuda, Wang Xianmin.
"Until the moment of seeing them boarding one by one and the planes taking off, I finally begin to have a sense of relief," said Wang. "I wish them a safe journey back to China and may they reunite with their family members as soon as possible."
The two planes are scheduled to arrive at the Shanghai Pudong International Airport on Sunday night, as Chinese people are celebrating the double holidays of the National Day and the traditional festival of Mid-Autumn Day.