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On-board busted ship, 'it was like 'Lord of the Flies''

  • Passenger details her five days on powerless, adrift ship
  • 'I feel like a harder, colder person because of this.'
  • Says deteriorating conditions began with smoke in the halls, later sewage 'dripping from the ceiling'
On-board busted ship, 'it was like 'Lord of the Flies''

Sleeping at the slots: Families turned the casino into a camp site.


Exiled from their rooms, passengers created a tent city on the pool decks.

Well, the good news aboard the Carnival Triumph was that the kids were still able to play mini-golf.

The problem, though, is that with the cruise listing at 4 degrees, it created a very challenging and novel sort of water hazard.

That was pretty much how it went on the crippled cruise, where even the silver linings were severely blurred around the edges.

The soda flowed freely, according to passenger Sarah Wolcott. It was water, she says, that was difficult to obtain.

And on a night she was fortunate to find an empty sofa to sleep on near a piano bar, she did so while wondering "if sewage had been dripping" on it earlier.

That's what chased Wolcott and thousands of her fellow passengers from their state rooms in the first place: sewage; the build-up of it and the stench from it.

"My room was about 90 degrees, the floor was soaked and it smelled like mildew and it smelled like urine and it smelled like human excrement. The first floor and the second floor that's pretty much how most state rooms were," she said.

"The sixth floor was even worse. It reeked of feces. Walking down the stairwell to the sixth floor, it would almost induce vomiting."

Cruise ship pics: So close you may get seasick

This is why many of the ship's 4,000-plus passengers and crew stayed outside on the breezy pool decks or common areas, establishing their own "tent city" instead of returning to their uninhabitable rooms, especially on the middle and lower decks.

The last time Wolcott was comfortably in her own room was early Sunday morning when she heard an announcement from the captain calling for "Alpha Team to Engine Room One," according to the Houston resident.

"We opened up our hallway door and our full [first floor] hallway was full of smoke, it was billowing out. And then crew members were running up and down the hallway, knocking on every single door and they were saying 'Everyone get out, go to your muster station now.'"

"So of course we were panicking."

After beginning to assemble at the muster station, Wolcott says passengers were soon reassured by the cruise director that "everything's fine, you can return to your rooms." But by that point, returning had become a near impossibility for those on the bottom decks.

"There was no way we could return to our cabins and breathe at the same time," Wolcott says with exasperation still in her voice. It was at that point, she says, "things went downhill."

"No power, no plumbing, no organization. Everyone was panicked, yet trying to retain their best amount of composure as possible."

A bunker mentality soon emerged among passengers who freely exchanged the books and magazines they'd brought on board; the same ones they likely envisioned reading while sunbathing poolside, surrounded by the sounds of a steel band or kids doing cannonballs -- not the stench of "raw sewage, falling from the ceiling, dripping all over the floors."

Hope floats: Not all stories from the Triumph are bad

With the mass mingling of people of all ages who had been exiled from their rooms, Wolcott says just finding some peace and quiet became a stubborn challenge. "If you wanted your area to be quiet, you had to demand it from whoever was being loud and obnoxious." Taking stock of what she described as a general free-for-all throughout the ship's decks, the decrepit Triumph became "like 'Lord of the Flies.'"

"One elderly lady in a wheelchair had to go to the restroom, so she needed three men to literally carry her down the stairs (elevators were out of service) and then escort her to a handicap toilet. Which, no doubt, did not flush and smelled like a Port-o-Potty."

Three tugboats finally yanked the ship into harbor late Thursday night, more than four days after the engine fire which ignited what's been branded the "cruise from hell," in the first lawsuit filed against Carnival from the incident.

Speaking from her New Orleans hotel room the following day, Wolcott described the experience of breathing in the fresh air of Mobile, Alabama, as "like a spirit entering our bodies and giving us new life."

But its transformative powers only went so far.

"I feel like a harder, colder person because of this," she said with what sounded like disappointment.

"But I feel like I could survive anything now."

Follow Jonathan Anker on Twitter @JonFromHLN

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