MOBILE, Ala. – The first real glimpse of what life has been like for those stranded aboard a Carnival cruise ship adrift in the Gulf of Mexico came late Thursday as passengers began to disembark at the port in Mobile, a process that stretched into the early morning hours Friday. The lengthy parade of passengers was, at times, irate, tearful, amused and full of new-found gratitude.
They described an atmosphere aboard the Carnival Triumph reminiscent of "Survivor" and "Lord of the Flies," starting with the engine fire that stranded the ship without power off the coast of the Yucatan Peninsula on Sunday.
Debbie Moyes, 32, of Phoenix said she was awakened Sunday by a fellow passenger banging on her door, warning people to escape.
"That was one of the only points in my life I thought I might die," the mother of four said as she stood in the parking lot.
Soon after, she said some passengers panicked.
"People were hoarding food -- boxes and boxes of cereal, grabbing cake with both hands," she said.
Toilets stopped working and the 3,143 passengers and 1,086 crew had to urinate in sinks, she said, and eventually red plastic bags. She saw sewage dripping down walls. Sometimes people slipped on it, she said. Soon, the ship began to smell.
"It was like a hot port-o-potty," Moyes said, and when the ship tilted, "it would spill."
She scrawled a message in mascara on a sheet and held it aloft upon her return "Triumph RIP: Rest in Pee."
One night after the fire, the crew offered an open bar, she said, but that was canceled after some passengers drank too much and got out of control, cursing and fighting.
She slept up on deck, near a life boat.
"There was a tent city," she recalled. "People strung up ropes and sheets -- it looked like a refugee camp up on deck."
A group of men celebrating a buddy’s bachelor party, all Class of 2000 graduates of Winston Churchill High School in San Antonio, ran into a bachelorette party -- Winston Churchill Class of 2006.
So what did the guys do?
"We built them a shantytown" to sleep in on deck, said Chris Atherton, 30.
The ship’s band played on, staging a special Mardi Gras performance complete with bead tossing on Tuesday.
"For the most part, morale was good," said Tammy Chenault, 44, of Sweeny, Texas, who was cruising with a group of more than 200 women on a tour.
But others said the Triumph’s voyage was a test of humanity.
Quarter horse owner gets 19 1/2 years for embezzling in Illinois
Serial killer Israel Keyes was mistakenly given a razor
N.Y. blizzard fallout: One highway official resigns, 2 suspended