MOBILE, Ala. (AP) — After days stranded in the Gulf of Mexico in conditions some have described as dismal, most passengers aboard the disabled Carnival Triumph can look forward to an hours-long bus ride Thursday after they reach dry land.
The company announced its plan for passengers late Wednesday as the Triumph was being towed to a port in Mobile, Ala., with more than 4,000 people on board, some of whom have complained to relatives that they have limited access to food and bathrooms.
But passengers' stay in Alabama will be short. Carnival said in a statement late Wednesday that passengers were being given the option of boarding buses directly to Galveston, Texas, or Houston — a roughly seven-hour drive — or spending the night in a hotel in New Orleans, where the company said it booked 1,500 rooms. Those staying in New Orleans will be flown Friday to Houston. Carnival said it will cover all the transportation costs.
Speaking by phone to NBC's "Today" show Thursday morning, passenger Jamie Baker said conditions on the ship were "extremely terrible." There has been no electricity and few working toilets, she said.
Baker also described having to use plastic bags to go to the bathroom and wait in line for hours to get food and once saw a woman pass out while in line.
"It's just a nightmare," she said.
Baker said she and her friends slept with their life vests one night because the ship was listing and they feared it would tip over.
Vivian Tilley, whose sister, Renee Shanar, is on the ship, said Shanar, of Houston, told her the cabins were hot and smelled like smoke from the engine fire, forcing passengers to stay on the deck. She also said people were getting sick.
The company has disputed the accounts of passengers who describe the ship as filthy, saying employees are doing everything to ensure people are comfortable.
Robert Giordano, whose 33-year-old wife Shannon is aboard the cruise liner with a group of friends of hers from Edmond, Okla., said one of the most frustrating parts of the ordeal for him has been the lack of information coming from Carnival. As of midday Wednesday, the only communication he had with the company was through a recorded phone call with bits of information — and he only had three such telephone calls, he said.
"Carnival has not let us know about anything that's going on," Giordano said.
Meanwhile, officials in Mobile were preparing a cruise terminal that has not been used for a year to help passengers go through customs after their ordeal. The Triumph is expected to arrive Thursday afternoon.
Mobile Mayor Sam Jones questioned the plan to bus passengers to other cities late Wednesday, saying the city has more than enough hotel rooms to accommodate passengers and its two airports are near the cruise terminal.
"We raised the issue that it would be a lot easier to take a five-minute bus ride than a two-hour bus ride" to New Orleans, Jones said. Jones said Carnival employees will be staying in Mobile, adding he was not told of the company's reasoning for putting passengers on extended bus rides after their experience at sea.
"I don't know if the passengers even know that," Jones said.
Earlier Wednesday, Carnival Cruise Lines canceled a dozen more planned voyages aboard the Triumph and acknowledged that the crippled ship had been plagued by other mechanical problems in the weeks before the engine-room blaze. The National Transportation Safety Board has opened an investigation into the cause.