by Julie Ann Spence
LISBURN woman left the capital of Sichuan province in China just
two hours before the devastating earthquake which has left
70,000 people dead.
Justine Holland, 35, had left the Chengdu
Panda Sanctuary, where many people are still missing, but it was
48 hours before her frantic family received word she was safe.
The small cities and towns amid steep hills north of
Sichuan's provincial capital of Chengdu have been completely
flattened in the earthquake.
Justine, a former pupil of Killowen Primary and Laurelhill
Community College, has just begun a worldwide tour
after retiring from the Navy two years ago.
She began her year-long round-the-world trek
in China at the start of May and was in the Chengdu region when
the earthquake hit last Monday (May 12).
Her father, Phil Holland, said her family were frantic with
worry and just couldn't believe what was happening. "It was only
when I looked at the map of their route that I realised that was
where she. was that day. As the casualties got
greater and greater I feared for her life," he said. "Justine
does a lot of charity work for World Vision and she wanted to
get involved in charity work in Asia so I knew she would be off
the beaten track and in the local communities there. When I
heard what happened, I knew she wouldn't be too far away.
"I had been reading her online diary and sent
a couple of emails but we didn't hear from her for a couple of
days. I was frantic with worry."
survivor stands on a car among
the rubble of a collapsed
building following powerful
earthquake in Dujiangyan,
southwest China's Sichuan
`Do you think someone is watching over me?'
woman, Justine Holland has spoken of her lucky escape from the
devastating earthquake which hit China last week and has left at
least 70,000 people dead.
Justine, emailing from China, explained what
happened during those fateful few days and told of just how
lucky she was to survive. "Luckily, we went to the Panda
Sanctuary in Chengdu, which is 100km from the earthquake
epicentre and also badly affected, in the morning and left there
at 12.30 to move southwest to Leshan to climb
the Big Buddha, which is the biggest in the
world and 250km from the epicentre," explained Justine.
' We arrived there at 2ish and sat down in
'Davy's Cafe' for some lunch before our planned climb. Just as
we all ordered, at 2.28 we heard the screams that there was an
earthquake and Terry, our Intrepid Tour leader shouted for us to
"The whole thing was pretty surreal really, I
remember looking at him and having a delayed reaction, his words
didn't function in my head. "Then I looked at the window and saw
so many people looking up above where we were sitting, and my
immediate reaction was that the
building was about to collapse. So obviously,
I couldn't have gotten out of there quick enough and ran far
enough to clear the building.
"And that's when I felt the ground trembling
beneath me. Everyone was just running and a bit in shock I
think, like it wasn't really happening.
"When we stopped, it was like we couldn't
take in what was happening, I guess because we were not aware of
the extent of the quake. I'm sure we were all as scared as each
other and questioning ourselves about what was happening, if we
were going to die. It is hard to explain the feeling, but
luckily the building didn't collapse and we still had our lunch
"We were told we couldn't climb the Buddha
and everyone had to get down from the mountains. So we got on a
river boat and went to see it. Whilst we were on the boat, they
had another hit from the quake, but luckily we didn't feel it.
"We were also due to stay in a monastery for
three nights but those plans all had to change as a few of them
had collapsed. We were due to climb Mount Emei but we just went
to Emei and stayed in a hostel overnight before assessing the
situation the following day.
"No-one anywhere would go into any buildings,
as the quake was pretty ongoing all day. So our tour leader
wanted us to camp out in the park, but he had the last tent in
"We did have a government warning that we may
be hit again between 9.30-2am, so no-one was to stay indoors. So
we had an earthquake camp in the park with all the thousands of
"The following day, we were told we had to
leave the province immediately as they were closing all the
roads. We had to cut short our plans and headed to Chongqing a
few days earlier than expected.
"As we were leaving Emei, again the place got
hit, and we saw so much devastation everywhere, no signs of
trapped people or anything, but apparently as we were surrounded
by mountains that is what saved us. "We were on a bus for approx
7 hours from Emei to Chongqing and the driver fell asleep! He
would've been up all night from the earthquake and then had
apparently driven for 6 hours before picking us up, but luckily
two of our group were awake to realise he fell asleep -think
someone is watching over me? "Today is our third day that
everywhere is in mourning and having minute silences at 2.28,
and all entertainment etc have ceased for 7 days.
"I can't believe how lucky I've been and
missed so many hits. I really wanted to stay in Chengdu, but
glad I left when I did or I wouldn't be here I'm sure. It's
really sad at the death tolls are rising each day."
The Star will be following the progress of
Justine's journey as she travels through China, Vietnam,
Cambodia, Thailand, Laos, Malaysia, Indonesia, Australia, New
Zealand, Fiji and the United States.