Cruise passengers return home, feds probe fire

Published on NewsOK Modified: February 16, 2013 at 6:28 am •  Published: February 16, 2013

MOBILE, Ala. (AP) — Passengers of the Carnival Triumph tried to put the memories of their nightmarish cruise behind them Friday, boarding buses and planes for home after five harrowing days aboard a vessel adrift at sea without power or working toilets.

Many of the roughly 3,000 passengers were bused to New Orleans to catch a flight home or to the ship's home port in Galveston, Texas. And as if they hadn't suffered enough, one of the buses broke down during the two-hour ride to New Orleans. Passengers on a different bus reported losing their luggage.

"I'm very frustrated that now our luggage is gone and missing," said Deborah Day of Plano, Texas, adding that she had made sure to check through every transfer point herself, only to lose it when she trusted Carnival to put it on a separate truck instead of the bus she was riding on.

But she had kind words for the crew aboard the disabled ship, adding, "Those people were incredible."

Other passengers were taking things more in stride as they got closer to home.

Georgia Jackson, 66, of Cedar Hill, Texas, said that while the cruise was not ideal, it was not all bad either.

"About the only thing that's been reported is the bad and Carnival has been treating us like VIPs since the boat docked," she said in Galveston, adding that the crew did the best they could with a terrible set of circumstances.

"The ship looked like vagabond city," Jackson said, "but by and large people got along great."

While some called the journey a horrible experience, others spoke of bonding with fellow passengers during the long, exhaustive struggle to get home.

As ship conditions deteriorated after an engine-room fire Sunday, travelers formed Bible study groups, shared or traded precious supplies and even welcomed strangers into their private cabins. Long after they've returned to the everyday luxuries of hot showers and cold drinks, passengers said, they will remember the crew and the personal bonds formed during a cruel week at sea.

The tired tourists finally reached land Friday and gave a glimpse into the intensely uncomfortable journey they had endured.

Sandy Jackson, of Houston, was fortunate to have an upper-level room with a balcony and a breeze that kept the air in her cabin fresh. Rooms on the lower decks were too foul or stifling, so Jackson took in five people, including four strangers.

"We knew one. The others we're very good friends with now," Jackson said. "Everyone was very cordial in sharing supplies."

Brandi Dorsett, of Sweeny, Texas, said people were antsy and irritable at times, and there was tension. But it never got out of hand.

"People were bartering. Can I have your cereal for this? Can I have your drink for that?" she said. "We had one lady, she was begging for cigarettes for diapers. There were no diapers on the boat. There was no formula on the boat."

The ship carrying 4,200 people left Galveston, Texas, on Feb. 7 for a four-day jaunt to Cozumel, Mexico. The fire paralyzed the ship early Sunday, leaving it adrift in the Gulf of Mexico until tugboats towed the massive 14-story vessel to Mobile. It arrived late Thursday to cheers and flashing cameras. It took four hours for all of the passengers to disembark.

"Sweet Home Alabama!" read one of the homemade signs passengers hung over the side.

To pass the time, passenger Joseph Alvarez said, about 45 people gathered in a public room on the lower deck for Bible study.

"It was awesome," he said. "It lifted up our souls and gave us hope that we would get back."

Because many passengers were sleeping on the outside deck, Dwayne Chapman of Lake Charles, La., used his pocket knife to cut decorative rope to make tents out of bed sheets. At first, other passengers told him they thought he was going to get in trouble, but later, everyone wanted to borrow his knife to do the same thing.

"I really think we've made some lifelong friends going through this ordeal," Chapman's wife, Kim, said.

When it was over, many passengers were just grateful for simple pleasures. After days of warm drinks, Cheryl McIntosh and her husband were glad to see coolers full of ice.