MOBILE, Ala. • Passengers who finally escaped the disabled Carnival cruise ship Triumph were on the move early Friday, some checked into the comfort of hotels, others on buses or headed to charter flights home after five numbing days at sea on a ship paralyzed by an engine-room fire.
The vacation ship carrying some 4,200 people docked late Thursday in Mobile to raucous cheers from passengers weary of 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 tugboats 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.
"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 from the engine-room fire and the days of heat and stench that followed. She was on a "girls trip" with friends.
It took about four hours for all passengers to disembark.
Carnival spokesman Vance Gulliksen said passengers had three options: take a bus straight to Galveston, Texas, to retrieve cars parked at the ship’s departure port, take a bus to New Orleans to stay at a hotel before a charter flight home or have family or friends pick them up in Mobile.
Gulliksen said up to 20 charter flights would leave New Orleans later Friday to take guests who stayed in hotels there to their final destinations.
Nearly 2,000 passengers arrived at a New Orleans Hilton in the wee hour of the morning, and by dawn many were headed out again to fly by chartered plane to Houston. They would then have to get a connecting flight home or take a chartered bus back to their cars in Galveston.
"It just feels so good to be on land again and to feel like I have options," said Tracey Farmer of Tulsa, Okla. "I’m just ready to see my family. It’s been harder on them than us I think because they’ve been so worried about us. It’s been extremely stressful for them."
Buses began arriving at the Port of Galveston on Friday morning after an eight-hour drive from Mobile. Port of Galveston police said as many as 800 people would arrive by bus to retrieve their vehicles or be shuttled onto other buses to reach home.
Elaine Roberts of Gainesville, Texas, and her family were among the first to arrive in Galveston. She told KHOU-TV the conditions on Triumph were a "cesspool."
For some, once they get to Galveston to their cars, they still face long drives getting home.
"It’s going to be a very long day," said Dwayne McAbee, who says he’ll drive from Galveston to his home in Fort Worth, Texas, a roughly six to seven hour drive.
Tugs began pulling the ship away from the dock Friday morning, moving it backward down a waterway in the direction of a shipyard where city officials said it will be repaired.
It wasn’t long after the ship pulled into the Port of Mobile that passengers began streaming down the gang plank, some in wheelchairs and others pulling carry-on luggage. An ambulance pulled up to a gate and pulled away, lights flashing.
For 24-year-old Brittany Ferguson of Texas, not knowing how long passengers had to endure their time aboard was the worst part.
"I’m feeling awesome just to see land and buildings," said Ferguson, who was in a white robe given to her aboard to weather the cold nights. "The scariest part was just not knowing when we’d get back."
As the ship pulled up, some aboard shouted, "Hello, Mobile!" Some danced in celebration on one of the balconies. "Happy V-Day" read one of the homemade signs made for the Valentine’s Day arrival and another, more starkly: "The ship’s afloat, so is the sewage."
A few dozen relatives on the top floor of the parking deck of the terminal were waving lights at the ship as it carefully made its way alongside.
Taxis were lined up waiting for people, and motorists on Interstate 10 stopped to watch the exodus of passengers from the cruise ship.
Some still aboard chanted, "Let me off, let me off!"Next Page >
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