Pine Bluff’s Marcia Burris describes her experience aboard the Carnival cruise ship Triump (Special to The Commercial/William Harvey)
Marcia Burris, a cook at the Salvation Army in Pine Bluff, was one of more than 4,200 passengers and crew on the ill-fated Carnival Triumph cruise ship that became stranded in the Gulf of Mexico after a fire that the Coast Guard has since determined started in the engine room from a fuel leak.
A fine beginning
Burris departed from the Port of Houston on Feb. 7 with her sister Teresa Legion of Plano, Texas, and two friends from the Houston area, on what was supposed to be a chance to relax and reconnect for four days before returning Feb. 11.
“My sister made all of the reservations,” Burris said. “She kept asking me to come and at first I said no but she kept asking me so I finally said yes. She was so excited about it.”
Burris said that right up until the fire everything about the cruise was wonderful.
“It was great,” Burris said. “We went to Cozumel in Mexico. The weather was warm and we had a good time.”
A good time, that is, until the pre-dawn hours of Feb. 10.
“We were asleep in our cabin on deck two around 5:30 a.m. when a loud explosion shook the ship and woke us up,” Burris said. “The captain got on the radio and told us that everything was fine and that the problem would be taken care of. Our room was pitch dark and it took about 15 minutes before the emergency lighting came on.”
“Without the main power supply it got really hot in our cabin because the air conditioning was out,” Burris said. “There was a lot of smoke right after the fire and a strong burning smell on decks one and two. We ended up taking the sheets and blankets off of our beds and made our way up the stairs to deck five where there was a lounge that people were using to sleep in. It was crowded but at least we had a place to sleep.”
Burris said that with all ship elevators out of commission the only way to get food was to climb yet more stairs.
“The food was being distributed on deck 10 so we had to climb all those stairs to get there,” Burris said. “Man, it was hard going up and down those stairs. A whole lot of people were just huffing and puffing. They ran really low on water for a while. They would give us cups with just a little bit of water in it.”
Burris said that she and her group got food for elderly and disabled passengers they met who could not make the climb to get to deck 10 and along the way saw several instances of people fighting each other for food.
“They gave us tomato sandwiches, cucumber sandwiches, ham and cheese, turkey and tuna salad sandwiches,” Burris said. “Just whatever they were able to get from the Coast Guard and another cruise ship that transferred food to our ship. If you wanted a hamburger or hot dog you had to stand in line for three or four hours. I tell you, that was the best-tasting hamburger I have ever had.
“The four of us went to the gift shop at one point to see if they had any food and they were selling Pringles for $6 per can,” Burris said. “We ended up buying six cans.”
Burris was complimentary of the ship’s crew.
“The staff did the best that they could for us,” Burris said. “I know some of them stayed up all night working. The poor ship’s doctor and his nurse were constantly busy because so many people were getting sick after they ran out of the medicine that they took.”
Burris said that showers were available but only cold water came out of the taps.
Burris said that passengers originally were told the ship would be towed to port in Progreso, Mexico, but after storms blew the ship far to the north it was decided that Mobile, Alabama, would be the destination.
“We were adrift for about a day before the tug boats got to us,” Burris said. “We were so happy when the Coast Guard arrived. They had one of their ships next to us and they had their helicopters coming and going from the ship. They were very much appreciated.”
Burris said she knew of several injuries and even deaths on the ship after the power went out.
“A couple of people had broken their legs,” Burris said. “Disabled people got sick. It was just a terrible situation.”
Burris said that the trip north toward the Alabama Gulf Coast was arduous.
“We had stormy weather several times on the trip back,” Burris said. “The tow rope they were using broke several times. Our ship was huge compared to the tugs that were towing us. As we came into Mobile I was just sol glad that we made it. I kept thinking about the Titanic.”
The Triumph arrived in the Port of Mobile just before 9:30 p.m. Feb. 14.
“They had us get off of the ship by deck,” Burris said. “But they did get the elderly and the disabled off first.”
Burris said she and her three traveling companions then made their way by bus to New Orleans.
“We probably left Mobile around midnight or 1 a.m. and got to New Orleans a few hours later where we checked into the Hilton,” Burris said. “By the time we finally got to lie down it was 5 a.m. and we had a 5:30 a.m. wake-up call to get ready to go to the airport.”
Burris said her sister and their friends had to stay in New Orleans a second night because their luggage could not be located.
“My flight left New Orleans early in the afternoon and I got back to Little Rock by 3:30 p.m.,” Burris said.
Burris said that was unable to call her employers to let them know what had happened after the ship lost power.
“They know I never miss work unless it’s something serious,” Burris said. “It was Captain [David] Robinson who figured out what was going on.”
When asked if she would cruise again Burris was noncommittal.
“This was actually my first cruise,” Burris said. “I don’t know if I’ll ever do it again. My sister kept apologizing for what happened but I told her that it wasn’t her fault.”
Burris said that she was informed by Carnival that she would be getting a full refund for the cruise, a free future cruise and $500.