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Carnival Triumph passengers make their way back home

Friday, February 15, 2013

What an odyssey it's been for the thousands of passengers aboard the Carnival Triumph. It was five days of living in unsanitary conditions without a whole lot of food. There have been plenty of tears and plenty of hugs as hundreds of people arrived into Houston and Galveston, either by bus or plane.

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But misery turned to joy Thursday night when the ship was finally towed into port in Mobile, Alabama.

Many of those passengers got off the ship and immediately boarded a bus for Galveston. They began arriving on the island enthusiastically Friday morning. The last passenger left the ship around 1am Friday and by now many of them are back home, finally reunited with their loved ones.

"It was long and it was hard and it was sad," said passenger Jenny Haynes of Austin. "And it was frustrating and exhausting."

Haynes and Starr McAllister were the first two off the bus. They and other passengers recalled a nightmare scenario on board, with little to no running water and human waste in hallways.

"It was disgusting," said passenger Glenn Gillingsley.

"No power, no toilets. At times, no water," added passenger Doris Watkins from Houston. "We were just living in filth."

Passengers arrived in Galveston in waves all day Friday. They are exhausted and relieved to be back on solid ground. From the cheers you'd think they had a great time.

"So tired of water! It's all we saw for days!"

Then came the horror stories...

"Everything you heard was true, everything," said passenger Liz Culpepper. "Everything you heard was true."

Another passenger said, "Everywhere you went there was a smell, and it got worse day after day."

"I think it was just like a small jail," said passenger Roberto Torres. "I named mine Cell House 6, because you ate, slept, walked around on the compound."

Five agonizing days they spent with the ship dead in the water, stranded in squalor.

"They told us to pee in the showers, but it bubbled up out of the floor, so we were walking around -- it got all over the carpet," one passenger recounted.

Doris Watkins from Houston spent the entire time in a wheelchair.

"Very difficult. Yes it was," she said. "Each day, dragging on with no land in sight and no rescue."

"They discharged no boats to us, no rescue, nothing to us," said passenger Randall Raison. "And then they sent this little bathtub toy to pull a 102,000-ton ship."

"It was incompetence to a level I've never seen," said passenger Mark Mazan of Dallas.

They did whatever they could as they waited to be rescued.

"I met some friends," said passenger Sergio Manzanera from San Antonio. "We tried to make the best of it. We made some signs, we made these T-shirts."

The original four-day cruise turned into more of a camping trip for Roberto and Donna Torres of Katy. They pitched tents on the deck and only got cell service when other ships passed.

Donna said, "We had a guy offer us $20 to use our phone."

But now, finally back on dry land and closer to home, they can start to put the entire experience behind them.

While the experience was worse for some, believe it or not, there are a few who'll use their Carnival vouchers to return to sea.

"I think we're going to do the Alaska Carnival cruise where we can see land on both sides of the ship instead of being out in the middle of the Gulf," said passenger Jeanne Stevens of Flower Mound, Texas.

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 arrive home by air

Planes carrying dozens of other cruise passenger have arrived at Bush Intercontinental Airport on charter flights.

Stephanie Guillen is one of many people who arrived back at the big airport this morning. She was glad to finally embrace her kids after being away from them five days longer than expected.

"It was heartbreaking not to be able to hear my kids' voice or just to be able to tell them I was OK," she said. "It was terrible."

There are 11 flights carrying around 2,000 passengers that will arrive in Houston throughout the day from New Orleans. That's where passengers were transported to from Mobile after getting off the ship last night.

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.

The cruise ship was disabled for five nightmarish days in the Gulf. The Triumph finally docked with some 4,200 people aboard late Thursday night with passengers raucously cheering the end to an ocean odyssey they say was marked by 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 Triumph. The ship's horn loudly blasted several times as four tugboats pulled the crippled ship to shore. Some gave a thumbs-up sign and flashes from cameras and cellphones lit the night.


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