Page last updated at 17:20 GMT, Thursday, 15 May 2008 18:20 UK

Hope and despair for China tourist

Three days after a devastating earthquake that killed at least 19,000 people in China, 19 British tourists have been flown out of the one of the worst affected areas. Tourist Liz Cullen, from The Wirral, tells what happened when the quake struck.

We had taken a quite a long and hair-raising coach journey along a mountain road to Wolong, the panda reserve, in Sichuan province of China.

Victim looks out from his destroyed house
Ms Cullen praised the Chinese people for their kindness despite their losses

We had arrived and we'd had about an hour there and I had decided that one of the things I wanted to do was actually hold one of the baby pandas. An appointment was made to do that at 2 o'clock.

I did [it] and it was one of the happiest moments of my life and it was just a wonderful, wonderful experience.

Shortly after that we were going round to look at the souvenir shop which is just round the corner, possibly about half an hour later, when there was a very, very distinct shudder underneath us, followed by more and more shudders.

Then we looked up to the mountains, which are very, very close on both sides, and there seemed to be an eruption from the top of one mountain and the biggest noise I have ever heard in my life, followed by trees cascading down towards us, followed by some boulders and rocks.

The thought in my head was that I had just had one of the most lovely moments of my life and now I'm going to die here and perhaps never be found
Liz Cullen

The pandas ran to the edge of the cage, the reservation place they were in, and we just stayed in the open.

We were well guided by the people who were there, who said 'stay, stay until we see what's coming where'.

When it was clear where the trees and rubble were coming to, they guided us to a small brick shelter where we stayed and the ground continued to shudder and the stuff continued to come down from the mountains.

We stayed there for, I don't know how long, possibly a few minutes, possibly longer until it seemed to settle slightly and then we went back into the open, obviously because we weren't sure how safe the buildings were going to be.

File image of two pandas having breakfast at the Wolong panda reserve
Holding a baby panda had been a wonderful experience, Ms Cullen said

I had my phone in my hand and I was torn between texting my sister's phone, because my mother doesn't have a mobile phone, to say 'I love you', or to say we're OK, because saying I love you would possibly mean she would think I was dying or about to die.

And 'we're ok' might not have been the case. So I tried to do that, but events overtook that.

There were those around who were calmer than I was, I don't know. The thought in my head was that I had just had one of the most lovely moments of my life and now I'm going to die here and perhaps never be found.

We stayed at the reservation for a couple of hours until they felt it was safe to take us in a coach.

We were taken to the grounds of the hotel we were supposed to be staying at that night - which again was a very hair-raising journey and all praise to the coach driver who was fantastic driving round boulders and landslides.

Another tourist in the group, Penny Edwards, tells how she thought she would be buried

Eventually we got there and we basically stayed in the coach until this morning (Thursday).

We were allowed out of the coach but we were staying overnight in the coach because the buildings weren't safe.

And then someone arrived who said grab your luggage quickly, you're being taken out and we were taken down a short road in a van where there was a helicopter waiting for us.

I went between hope and despair, and certainly for most of the time I was more concerned particularly about my mum not knowing whether I was alive or dead and probably thinking I was dead, and I'd have given anything to be able to contact her and say, 'look, this has happened, the situation here isn't ideal, but we're alive and well'.

The local Chinese people were remarkable. Despite losing their homes and being in devastating circumstances, they showed us nothing but kindness, help and support. I'll never forget them.

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