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MOBILE, Ala. (CBS Houston/AP) — Passengers who were aboard the disabled Carnival cruise ship couldn’t even catch a break on land.
CBS News reports that one of the buses carrying passengers from Mobile, Ala., to New Orleans broke down.
Over 4,000 people on the Carnival Triumph were stranded in the Gulf of Mexico for five days after an engine room fire disabled the ship.
The cruise ship finally pulled into port, with the help of four tugboats, early Friday morning.
It took about four hours for all passengers to disembark.
Carnival spokesman Vance Gulliksen said Triumph guests had three options: board 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.
Some passengers, like Deborah Knight, 56, of Houston, had no interest in boarding a bus. Her husband Seth drove in from Houston and they checked into a downtown Mobile hotel.
“I want a hot shower and a daggum Whataburger,” said Knight, who was wearing a bathrobe over her clothes as her bags were unloaded from her husband’s pickup truck. She said she was afraid to eat the food on board and had gotten sick while on the ship.
Buses arrived in the pre-dawn darkness at a Hilton in New Orleans to a host of reporters and paramedics on the scene with wheelchairs to roll in passengers who were elderly or too fatigued to walk.
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. She was on a “girls trip” with friends.
She said the group hauled mattresses to upper-level decks to escape the heat. As she pulled her luggage into the hotel, a flashlight around her neck, she managed a smile and even a giggle when asked to show her red “poo-poo bag” — distributed by the cruise line for collecting human waste.
This was only part of her journey to get home. Hernandez, like hundreds others, would get to enjoy a brief reprieve at the hotel before flying home later in the day.
“I just can’t wait to be home,” she said.
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.
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.”
The company disputed the accounts of passengers who described the ship as filthy, saying employees were doing everything to ensure people were comfortable.
In a text message, Kalin Hill, of Houston, described deplorable conditions over the past few days.
“The lower floors had it the worst, the floors ‘squish’ when you walk and lots of the lower rooms have flooding from above floors,” Hill wrote. “Half the bachelorette party was on two; the smell down there literally chokes you and hurts your eyes.”
She said “there’s poop and urine all along the floor. The floor is flooded with sewer water … and we had to poop in bags.”
While the passengers are headed home, the Triumph will head to a Mobile shipyard for assessment. Carnival has canceled a dozen more planned voyages aboard the Triumph and acknowledged 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.
Passengers were supposed to get a full refund and discounts on future cruises, and Carnival announced Wednesday they would each get an additional $500 in compensation.
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