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Passengers Leave Disabled Cruise Ship, Begin Long Trips Home

Both Passengers and media wait for  for the final unloading of the Triumph on February 14, 2013 in Mobile, Alabama.  (Photo by Jeff Gammons/Getty Images)

Both Passengers and media wait for for the final unloading of the Triumph on February 14, 2013 in Mobile, Alabama. (Photo by Jeff Gammons/Getty Images)

MOBILE, Ala. (CBSNewYork/AP) – Passengers who finally escaped the disabled Carnival cruise ship Triumph were
checking into hotels early Friday for a hot shower, fresh-cooked food and sleep or boarding buses for a long haul home after five numbing days at sea on a powerless ship.

The vacation ship docked late Thursday in Mobile after a painfully slow approach that took most of the day. Passengers raucously cheered after days of what they described as 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 tug boats 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.

Less than four hours later, the last passenger had disembarked.

“All guests have now disembarked the Carnival Triumph,” Carnival tweeted.

At the Mobile airport, a dozen passengers from the Triumph slept on couches for a few hours before catching flights Friday morning.

Buses arrived in the pre-dawn darkness at a Hilton in New Orleans to reporters and paramedics on the scene with wheelchairs to roll in passengers who were elderly or too fatigued to walk.

Up to 100 had been reserved to carry passengers either on a seven-hour ride to the Texas cities of Galveston or Houston or a two-hour trip to New Orleans.

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.

Jonathan Rosenberg of Washington Heights was among the 4,200 passengers and crew on board and recalled what happened when an engine room fire crippled the ship.

“Only thing that went through my mind was that ‘Oh my God we have to get on these lifeboats and we’re going to be in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico on these tiny little lifeboats,'” he said.

It took six grueling hours navigating the 30-odd-mile ship channel to dock, guided by at least four tow boats. Nearly 900 feet in length, it was the largest cruise ship ever to dock at Mobile.

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.”

Disgusted by the foul air and heat on the lower decks, many passengers hauled mattresses and bed sheets onto the top deck and slept there, even staying put in a soaking rain. As the ship approached the coast, a slew of Carnival workers removed the bedding and took it downstairs.

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.”

But Rosenberg said crew members tried to make the situation bearable.

“The crew did an amazing job. They were all smiling and happy. It could have been a lot worse,” he said.

Tired and frazzled, Rosenberg is now focusing on getting back to New York City. He said he has to drive from Galvaston to Dallas and then take a flight to New York.

“I’m quite relieved because honestly when this all happened, I was only thinking the worst,” he said. “The fact that we made it back in one piece…I’m very happy.”

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.

(TM and © Copyright 2013 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2013 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)