(CBS News) Four thousand people who have been adrift at sea for four days are finally ashore
Passengers who finally escaped the disabled Carnival cruise ship Triumph were checking into hotels early Friday for a hot shower, fresh-cooked food and sleep or boarding buses for a long haul home after five numbing days at sea on a powerless ship.
The vacation ship carrying some 4,200 people docked late Thursday in Mobile after a painfully slow approach that took most of the day. Passengers raucously cheered after days of what they described as overflowing toilets, food shortages and foul odors.
"Sweet Home Alabama!" read one of the homemade signs passengers affixed alongside the 14-story ship as many celebrated at deck rails lining several levels of the stricken ship. The ship's horn loudly blasted several times as four tugboats pulled the crippled ship to shore at about 9:15 p.m. CST. Some gave a thumbs-up sign and flashes from cameras and cellphones lit the night.
Less than four hours later, the last passenger had disembarked.
She left Galveston, Texas, a week ago, loaded with her maximum 3,143 passengers and crew of 1,100. The brochure described a four-day cruise in the Caribbean, but an engine room fire left her adrift and powerless.
All aboard have suffered in squalid conditions, stranded as Carnival slowly brought the ship in.
From above the ship as it was towed in, CBS News could see people waving, some with signs that appear to be made out of bed sheets. One said "SOS" -- save our ship -- but at this point it's not the ship that needs saving, it's the passengers.
The ship has been without power since an engine room fire five days ago. CBS News reached passenger Jacob Combs on the phone.
"The really bad part is there was no running water and toilets for almost the first 30 hours," Combs said. "Once they finally did get running water, the toilets only worked in certain places. I would say it's the worst smell imaginable."
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Emailed photos reveal squalid conditions. Many passengers used red plastic bags as toilets. Hundreds slept in hallways or topside to escape the foul and stagnate air below deck.
Carnival CEO Jerry Cahill insists passengers were never at risk. But 22-year old Leslie Mayberry disagreed.
"It was leaning to one side it was literally like walking up hill whenever the boat was leaning," she said.
"I mean it was very scary," Mayberry said. "I mean a lot of people thought it was going to tip over and sink. And then you look out on the deck and you see the ocean and there is no one, you are just by yourself and you are so alone, even though you are around 3,000 other people on this boat."
The towline pulling the 14-story tall ship snapped, delaying Thursday's operation. It was re-attached, but it will be nightfall before the ship arrives at the terminal. Nellie Betts came from Tupelo, Miss., to meet her daughter.
"There's no reason why those people should be out there as long as they have. Why? I want to understand why," she said. "What is taking them so long to get them out?"