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Cruise passengers formed bonds to endure squalid conditions

| Friday, Feb. 15, 2013, 6:30 p.m.
Houston residents Kendall Jenkins, left, and Brittany Ferguson celebrate after finally disembarking from the Carnival Triumph in Mobile, Ala., late Thursday, Feb. 14, 2013. The ship with more than 4,200 passengers and crew members has been idled for nearly a week in the Gulf of Mexico, disabled by an engine room fire. 
(AP)
Houston residents Kendall Jenkins, left, and Brittany Ferguson celebrate after finally disembarking from the Carnival Triumph in Mobile, Ala., late Thursday, Feb. 14, 2013. The ship with more than 4,200 passengers and crew members has been idled for nearly a week in the Gulf of Mexico, disabled by an engine room fire. (AP)

MOBILE, Ala. — When their cruise ship lost power, passengers aboard the Carnival Triumph could have been selfish and looked out only for themselves and their loved ones. Instead, they became comrades in a long, exhausting struggle to get home.

As ship conditions deteriorated, travelers formed Bible study groups, shared or traded precious supplies and even welcomed strangers into their private cabins. Long after they've returned to the everyday luxuries of hot showers and cold drinks, passengers said, they will remember the crew and the personal bonds formed during a cruel week at sea.

The tired passengers finally reached land Friday and gave a glimpse into the intensely uncomfortable journey they had endured.

Sandy Jackson of Houston was fortunate to have an upper-level room with a balcony and a breeze that kept the air in her cabin fresh. Rooms on the lower decks were too foul or stifling, so Jackson took in five people, including four strangers.

“We knew one. The others we're very good friends with now,” Jackson said. “Everyone was very cordial in sharing supplies. What you had and they didn't have, everyone shared as much as possible.”

Brandi Dorsett of Sweeny, Texas, said people were antsy and irritable at times, and there was tension. But it never got out of hand.

“People were bartering. Can I have your cereal for this? Can I have your drink for that?” she said. “We had one lady, she was begging for cigarettes for diapers. There were no diapers on the boat. There was no formula on the boat.”

The ship left Galveston, Texas, on Feb. 17 for a four-day jaunt to Cozumel, Mexico. An engine-room fire early Sunday paralyzed the ship, leaving it adrift in the Gulf of Mexico until tugboats towed the 14-story vessel to Mobile. It arrived late Thursday to cheers and flashing cameras.

“Sweet Home Alabama!” read one of the homemade signs passengers hung over the side.

Many of the more than 4,200 people aboard were bused to New Orleans to catch a flight home or to the ship's home port in Galveston. And as if they hadn't suffered enough, one of the buses broke down during the two-hour ride to New Orleans. Passengers on a different bus reported losing their luggage.

But that was nothing compared to life on the crippled cruise liner. To pass the time, Joseph Alvarez said about 45 people gathered in a public room on the lower deck for Bible study.

“It was awesome,” he said. “It lifted up our souls and gave us hope that we would get back.”

Because many passengers were sleeping on the outside deck, Dwayne Chapman of Lake Charles, La., used his pocket knife to cut decorative rope to make tents out of bed sheets. At first, other passengers told him they thought he was going to get in trouble, but later, everyone wanted to borrow his knife to do the same thing.

“I really think we've made some lifelong friends going through this ordeal,” Chapman's wife, Kim, said.

When it was over, many passengers were just grateful for some simple pleasures. After days of warm drinks, Cheryl McIntosh and her husband were glad to see coolers full of ice.

“The first thing we did was open up those Diet Cokes and we drank some,” McIntosh said.

Tugs pulled the ship away from the dock Friday, moving it down a waterway to a shipyard where it will be repaired. The damage assessment is ongoing.

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