The luxury cruise ship Costa Concordia lays on its side after running aground the tiny Tuscan island of Giglio, Italy, Saturday, Jan. 14, 2012. A luxury cruise ship ran aground off the coast of Tuscany, sending water pouring in through a 160-foot (50-meter) gash in the hull and forcing the evacuation of some 4,200 people from the listing vessel early Saturday, the Italian coast guard said. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)
The luxury cruise ship Costa Concordia lays on its side after running aground the tiny Tuscan island of Giglio, Italy, Saturday, Jan. 14, 2012. A luxury cruise ship ran aground off the coast of Tuscany, sending water pouring in through a 160-foot (50-meter) gash in the hull and forcing the evacuation of some 4,200 people from the listing vessel early Saturday, the Italian coast guard said. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)

Passengers relive a 'Titanic' nightmare

By Emily Allen And AGENCIES Time of article published Jan 15, 2012

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Survivors of the Costa Concordia shipping disaster off the west coast of Italy have told harrowing tales of trying to escape the sinking luxury cruise liner as it hit a rock and then capsized.

Sixty-nine people are believed to be missing and three are dead.

The 114 500-ton Costa Concordia left port at 7pm on Friday for a seven-day Mediterranean cruise – but within two hours, it ran aground a few hundred metres off the island of Giglio, off the Tuscan coast.

Smashing into rocks which tore a 50m gash in the hull, the 13-deck liner began to take on water. By yesterday morning the ship was lying flat on its side, its starboard side fully submerged.

About 4 200 passengers and crew were evacuated but Italian officials said yesterday that 69 had not yet been accounted for, although they said the passenger list might not be fully up-to-date.

Coast guards and divers spent yesterday searching the submerged decks, according to the BBC.

Most of the passengers were believed to be Italian, but there were also more than 500 Germans, about 160 French, 129 Americans and 24 British.

Clayson Monyela, a spokesman for the SA department of International Relations, said he had not been alerted to any South Africans on board.

Those evacuated by helicopter were flown to Grosseto, while others, rescued by local ferries, took survivors to the port of Porto Santo Stefano on the mainland.

Passengers complained 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 far for many of them.

“We were having dinner aboard when we heard a loud noise, like that of the keel being dragged over something,” passenger Luciano Castro told Italian state radio.

The lights went out “and there were scenes of panic, glasses falling to the floor,” he said.

Valerie Ananias, 31, a Los Angeles teacher who was travelling with her sister and parents, said: “Have you seen Titanic? That’s exactly what it was.”

She and her family all had bruised knees from their desperate crawl along now 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,” said her mother, Georgia Ananias, 61. “We could hear plates and dishes crashing, people slamming against walls.”

She choked up as she recounted the moment an Argentine couple handed her their three-year-old daughter as the ship lurched to the side and the family found themselves standing on a wall.

Georgia Ananias said: “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.

Another passenger, Mara Parmegiani, also said it was like a scene from the Titanic.

The Titanic sank on April 12 1912, one hundred years ago this year, with the loss of 1 496 lives.

“We had a blackout and everybody was just screaming. All the passengers were running up and down and then we went to our cabins,” said another passenger.

“They said we should stay calm, it is nothing, it’s just some electrical problem or just some blackout thing.”

The evacuation drill was scheduled only for yesterday afternoon, even though some passengers had been on board for several days.

Melissa Goduti, 28, of Wallingford, Connecticut, said: “It was so unorganised…. We had joked, what if something had happened today?”

The passengers were instructed to put on life jackets and take to the life rafts but they couldn’t get into them because the ship was tilting so much.

They were eventually rescued by local boats.

The evacuees were taking refuge in schools, hotels, and a church in Giglio, a holiday isle.

Fabio Costa, who worked in a shop on the ship, said a number of people jumped into the sea to swim ashore.

Costa said that once the emergency alarm was set off people started to panic and push each other in a bid to get into lifeboats.

“A lot of people were falling down the stairs and were hurt because things fell on them.”

“We didn’t know what to do… It was easier for people to jump into the sea because we were on the same level as the water so some people pretty much just decided to swim.”

Yesterday Coast Guard Commander Francesco Paolillo said some Concordia crew members were still aboard to help the coast guard rescuers inspect “every millimetre” of the ship, he said.

Paolilo said they had no details of the dead. – Daily Mail and agencies

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