"One year. How time flies! Our hearts have and will always be with Sichuan," Pierre de Villeneuve, captain of the French rescue team in the 2008 Wenchuan earthquake, said in a recent interview with Xinhua.
Villeneuve and his 12-member team arrived at the Guangyuan Central Hospital to help out in medical services on May 25, 2008, after the May 12 devastating 8-magnitude earthquake struck central China and claimed thousands of lives.
When recalling the 12 days in the quake-hit area, Villeneuve was still emotional. "China is a country quite far away from me, but I was deeply struck by that devastating natural disaster. I am proud of having led a French rescue mission there." he said.
For Villeneuve and his team, the 12 days went by in a flash, but it is indelibly imbedded in their memories.
"We were divided into three groups and worked in shifts," he said. "In the beginning, house visits were made with our Chinese counterparts, but soon we did this by ourselves because we were short of hands," he said.
He recalled that once following an aftershock, all he could think about was to help evacuate every one in the hospital.
"There was no time to fear. But I felt a bit frightened afterward," Villeneuve said.
He said during the team's time spent with the local residents "we became good friends."
"Bernard (Cazaux) is normally a shy man, but he got on well with the kids at the hospital," Villeneuve said.
Cazaux, who was responsible for hospital logistics, also recalled his days at the Guangyuan Central Hospital. He said he never felt tired despite the heavy workload everyday.
"I remember singing songs with my patients and Chinese counterparts at the hospital. They sang in French and I in Chinese," he said.
Denis Planade, who was a nurse in the team, showed Xinhua a notebook in which he had scribbled pages upon pages of daily expressions in both Chinese and French.
"If I could say hello to my patients in Chinese, I knew they would feel more at ease," Planade said.
"A most frequently used phrase was 'I love you'," he said, adding "I think everyone knows the word 'love' because it has a universal meaning."
Members of the team extended their heartfelt wishes to the victims of the Wenchuan quake to commemorate its one-year anniversary.
"The courage the people demonstrated in that calamity has deeply impressed us. We hope the people will hold on to their courage and remain united in rebuilding their homes," Villeneuve said on behalf of his team.
"Our hearts were, are, and will always be with Sichuan," he said.