Survivors from a luxury cruise ship that ran aground and tipped over, leaving at least three dead and 69 people still unaccounted for, described Saturday a chaotic evacuation, as plates and glasses crashed and they crawled along upended hallways trying to reach safety.
Three bodies were recovered from the sea after the Costa Concordia ran aground off the tiny island of Giglio near the coast of Tuscany late Friday, tearing a 160-foot gash in its hull and sending in a rush of water.
The ANSA news agency quoting the prefect’s office in the province of Grosseto as saying that authorities have accounted for 4,165 of the 4,234 people who had boarded the liner.
By morning Saturday, the ship was lying virtually flat off Gigio’s coast, its starboard side submerged in the water and the huge gash showing clearly on its upturned hull.
Passengers described a scene reminiscent of “Titanic”, complaining the crew failed to give instructions on how to evacuate and once the emergency became clear, delayed lowering the lifeboats until the ship was listing too heavily for many of them to be released.
“Have you seen ‘Titanic?’ That’s exactly what it was,” said Valerie Ananias, 31, a schoolteacher from Los Angeles who was traveling with her sister and parents on the first of two cruises around the Mediterranean. They all bore dark red bruises on their knees from the desperate crawl they endured along nearly vertical hallways and stairwells, trying to reach rescue boats.
“We were crawling up a hallway, in the dark, with only the light from the life vest strobe flashing,” her mother, Georgia Ananias, 61 said. “We could hear plates and dishes crashing, people slamming against walls.”
She choked up as she recounted the moment when an Argentine couple handed her their 3-year-old daughter, unable to keep their balance as the ship lurched to the side and the family found themselves standing on a wall. “He said ‘take my baby,'” Mrs. Ananias said, covering her mouth with her hand as she teared up. “I grabbed the baby. But then I was being pushed down. I didn’t want the baby to fall down the stairs. I gave the baby back. I couldn’t hold her.
“I thought that was the end and I thought they should be with their baby,” she said.
“I wonder where they are,” daughter Valerie whispered.
The passenger said people were told there were electrical problems.
Others described chaotic scenes as the liner began to move violently.
“The boat started shaking. The noise – there was panic, like in a film, dishes crashing to the floor, people running, people falling down the stairs,” said survivor Fulvio Rocci.
Those on board said the boat suddenly tilted to the left.
“We told the guests everything was ok and under control and we tried to stop them panicking,” cabin steward Deodato Ordona recalled.
It was about an hour before a general emergency was announced, he said.
Then the ship rolled again, now listing to the right, and the captain ordered the ship to be abandoned.
Mr Ordona said his colleagues and passengers were waiting to use lifeboats but the change in the direction the boat was sinking prompted them to seek lifeboats on the other side of the ship.
Monica, a German passenger who was in the cruise liner’s theatre when the ship began to suffer problems, said it was hard to reach the lifeboats.
“It was difficult to walk. First it moved once, then to the left and then more on the right. The boat was tipping one side. You could see the ship was sinking more and more. In half an hour it sank halfway into the water,” she said.
Cruise ship shop worker Fabio Costa said when people realised there was a serious problem, there were scenes of desperation.
“Everything happened really fast. Everybody tried to get a life boat and people started to panic. A lot of people were falling down the stairs and some were hurt because things fell on them.
“Everybody was trying to get on the boats at the same time. When people had to get on the lifeboats they were pushing each other. It was a bit chaotic. We were trying to keep passengers calm but it was just impossible. Nobody knew what was going on.”
He said children and women were given priority when it came to allocating places on lifeboats, but the system proved to be difficult to implement because many men “weren’t accepting this” because they wanted to remain together as a family, prompting “huge confusion”.
Some people decided it was too difficult to get on to a lifeboat and chose to swim, with a number safely reaching the nearby island of Giglio.
“We were on the same level as the water so some people started to swim because they weren’t able to get on the lifeboats,” said Mr Costa.
He said he saw some people jumping but could not get a sense of just how many people did so.
It’ll be interesting to see what led to the incident.
I suspect some sort of serious lapse in navigational competence. Time will tell.
UPDATE: Some incredible photos found here… here are but a couple:
UPDATE II: Instapundit links to my place… thanks Glenn.