Passengers who finally escaped the disabled Carnival cruise ship Triumph were checking into hotels early today for a hot shower, fresh-cooked food and sleep or boarding buses for a long haul home after five numbing days at sea on a powerless ship.
The vacation ship docked late Thursday in Mobile after a painfully slow approach that took most of the day. Passengers raucously cheered after days of what they described as overflowing toilets, food shortages and foul odors.
“Sweet Home Alabama!” read one of the homemade signs passengers affixed alongside the 14-story ship as many celebrated at deck rails lining several levels of the stricken ship.
The ship’s horn loudly blasted several times as four tug boats pulled the crippled ship to shore at about 9:15 p.m. CST. Some gave a thumbs-up sign and flashes from cameras and cellphones lit the night.
Less than four hours later, the last passenger had disembarked.
“All guests have now disembarked the Carnival Triumph,” Carnival tweeted.
At the Mobile airport, a dozen passengers from the Triumph slept on couches for a few hours before catching flights Friday morning.
Buses arrived in the pre-dawn darkness at a Hilton in New Orleans to reporters and paramedics on the scene with wheelchairs to roll in passengers who were elderly or too fatigued to walk.
Up to 100 had been reserved to carry passengers either on a seven-hour ride to the Texas cities of Galveston or Houston or a two-hour trip to New Orleans.
Many were tired and didn’t want to talk. There were long lines to check into rooms. Some got emotional as they described the deplorable conditions of the ship.
“It was horrible, just horrible” said Maria Hernandez, 28, of Angleton, Texas, tears welling in her eyes as she talked about waking up to smoke in her lower-level room Sunday and the days of heat and stench to follow.
Jonathan Rosenberg of Washington Heights was among the 4,200 passengers and crew on board and recalled what happened when an engine room fire crippled the ship.
“Only thing that went through my mind was that ‘Oh my God we have to get on these lifeboats and we’re going to be in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico on these tiny little lifeboats,'” he said.
It took six grueling hours navigating the 30-odd-mile ship channel to dock, guided by at least four tow boats. Nearly 900 feet in length, it was the largest cruise ship ever to dock at Mobile.
Carnival CEO Gerry Cahill apologized at a news conference and later on the public address system as people were disembarking.
“I appreciate the patience of our guests and their ability to cope with the situation. And I’d like to reiterate the apology I made earlier. I know the conditions on board were very poor,” he said. “We pride ourselves on providing our guests with a great vacation experience, and clearly we failed in this particular case.”
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