Disaster struck off the coast of the tiny island of Giglio near Tuscany in a scene reminiscent of Titanic after the Costa Concordia cruise ship crashed in to the island late Friday night.
The impact tore a 160-foot gash that allowed seawater to rush in to the cruise liner. By this morning, the ship is reported to be lying flat on its side as water continues to gush in. Three bodies have been recovered from the sea and authorities are reported to have accounted for 4,165 of the 4,234 people who had boarded the liner.
Here are the heart-wrenching reports of the accident as told by passengers to the Associated Press:
Passengers described a scene reminiscent of "Titanic", complaining the crew failed to give instructions on how to evacuate and once the emergency became clear, delayed lowering the lifeboats until the ship was listing too heavily for many of them to be released.
Helicopters plucked to safety some people who were trapped on the ship, some survivors were rescued by boats in the area, and witnesses said some people jumped from the ship into the dark, cold sea. Coast guard rescuers were continuing to search the ship for passengers.
"It was so unorganized, our evacuation drill was scheduled for 5 p.m.," said Melissa Goduti, 28, of Wallingford, Connecticut, who had set out on the cruise of the Mediterranean hours earlier. "We had joked 'What if something had happened today?'"
"Have you seen 'Titanic?' That's exactly what it was," said Valerie Ananias, 31, a schoolteacher from Los Angeles who was traveling with her sister and parents on the first of two cruises around the Mediterranean. They all bore dark red bruises on their knees from the desperate crawl they endured along nearly vertical hallways and stairwells, trying to reach rescue boats.
"We were crawling up a hallway, in the dark, with only the light from the life vest strobe flashing," her mother, Georgia Ananias, 61 said. "We could hear plates and dishes crashing, people slamming against walls."
She choked up as she recounted the moment when an Argentine couple handed her their 3-year-old daughter, unable to keep their balance as the ship lurched to the side and the family found themselves standing on a wall. "He said 'take my baby,'" Mrs. Ananias said, covering her mouth with her hand as she teared up. "I grabbed the baby. But then I was being pushed down. I didn't want the baby to fall down the stairs. I gave the baby back. I couldn't hold her.
"I thought that was the end and I thought they should be with their baby," she said.
"I wonder where they are," daughter Valerie whispered.
The family said they were some of the last off the ship, forced to shimmy along a rope down the exposed side of the ship to a waiting rescue vessel below.
This is truly tragic.
Our prayers are with those who were aboard the ship and their families. We will provide updates on the tragedy as they are available to us.
SOURCE: USA Today