Authorities expressed relief Tuesday that a fire aboard the giant cruise ship Ecstasy didn't become a Titanic-size tragedy, while passengers recalled their fear when the cruise to Mexico turned into a smoky ordeal.
With the Ecstasy just two miles from shore, fire broke out Monday afternoon, possibly in a crew laundry room. Soon, flames were shooting from an open deck on the rear of the ship, and many of the 2,575 passengers were on the main deck, wearing orange life vests."My wife opened the door and the smoke was so thick she couldn't even see," said Edmund Thomas of Buffalo, N.Y., who was on the four-day cruise with her and their three children. "She tried to get the life jackets but she couldn't. And me and my kids were without life jackets, so that's what was scary."
A 10-member team from the National Transportation Safety Board was sent to investigate the blaze. Robert Francis, NTSB vice chairman, told the "Today" show Tuesday that investigators hadn't been able to view the fire scene yet because of "hot spots" but planned to tour it later.
About 60 people were injured in the fire, most of them suffering from smoke inhalation. At least 14 people were taken to four hospitals; four were admitted in stable condition, two seamen suffering from smoke inhalation and one seaman and one passenger suffering from chest pains. The other 10 people were treated and released.
"We don't know if we have anything left. We walked out in the hallway and saw smoke. We had enough time to get dressed, and we just made it," said Robert Bookstein of Washingtonville, N.Y.
The dramatic scene could be seen by condominium dwellers on beachfront balconies and live on television. The 10-deck Carnival Cruise Lines ship, which also had more than 900 crew members, was bound for Key West and then Cozumel, Mexico.
Crews, aided by other boats spraying water at the stern, needed about three hours to extinguish the fire.
Carnival President Bob Dickinson said passengers would get a full refund and a free cruise.