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Passengers slog home after 'horrible' Gulf cruise

By Jay Reeves

Associated Press

Published: Friday, Feb. 15 2013 1:37 p.m. MST

MOBILE, Ala. — Passengers finally escaped the disabled Carnival cruise ship Triumph and were on the move Friday: some checked into hotels while others hopped on buses or jumped on charter flights home after five numbing days at sea on a cruise liner 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 along deck rails lining several levels of the stricken ship. The ship's horn blasted several times as four tugboats helped it 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.

As if the passengers hadn't endured enough, one of the buses broke down during the two-hour ride to New Orleans. Carnival spokesman Vance Gulliksen said the passengers got on another bus and made it safely to New Orleans. Passengers aboard another bus also said their luggage was somehow lost.

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 hours, and by dawn many were headed out again to fly to Houston. They then had to get a connecting flight home or 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 arrived at the Port of Galveston on Friday morning after an eight-hour drive from Mobile. Port of Galveston police said they expected as many as 800 people by bus.

While complaints about Carnival itself piled up, passengers nearly universally praised the crew.

"The crew was awesome. I don't know how they did it, I mean, gloves, masks, sprays — they were up and down the hallway 24/7. Our little cabin boy, I don't know when he slept because he was always in there cleaning our bathrooms," said Brandi Dorsett, 36, of Sweeny, Texas.

In Mobile, tugs pulled the ship away from the dock Friday, moving it down a waterway in the direction of a shipyard where city officials said it will be repaired. Gulliksen said the damage assessment was ongoing and the company did yet have a timetable for the repairs. Several cranes were stationed alongside the ship and smoke could be seen spewing from its generators.

Only hours earlier, weary passengers streamed down the gangplank, some in wheelchair.

For 24-year-old Brittany Ferguson, of Texas, the worst part was not knowing how long they would be at sea.

"I'm feeling awesome just to see land and buildings," said Ferguson, who was in a white robe to keep her warm during cold nights.

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