As the crippled Carnival Triumph is tugged closer to Mobile, thousands of people are awaiting the arrival of the 4,000 passengers and crew who have been stranded for days on a ship plagued with problems.
The ship drew closer to the Alabama shoreline Thursday afternoon, being pushed and pulled by three tug boats. The towing stopped earlier in the afternoon when one of the towlines broke. The towing resumed about 45 minutes later after the towline was repaired and reconnected.
Carnival representatives said Thursday afternoon the ship is not expected to arrive in Mobile until sometime between 9:30 p.m Thursday and 12:30 a.m. Friday. After it docks, it will take another four to five hours for all of the passengers to disembark from the ship.
The Triumph will be the largest ship to ever dock in the Mobile port, Senior VP of Carnival's Marketing, Terry Thornton, said in a news conference. An extra 200 Carnival employees will be on hand to assist the travelers when they get off.
Thornton added that there is currently only one functional elevator on the cruise ship.
The vacation-turned-nightmare began Sunday with a fire in the engine-room, resulting in loss of power, few working toilets and a limited food supply.
Once the passengers get on land again, Carnival will offer them two choices—to take a seven hour bus ride back to Galveston or Houston, Texas, or to take a two-hour bus ride to New Orleans, where Carnival has booked 1,500 hotel rooms. The company said in a release issued Wednesday they will fly the passengers who chose to stay overnight in New Orleans to Houston the next day.
The president of Mobile's Visitors Bureau said Thursday that Mobile has plenty of hotel accommodations available for the 4,000 passengers. He and others are questioning Carnival's decision to send the passengers to other cities instead of providing hotels and transportation in Mobile.
Family and friends of passengers on board are beginning to gather in Mobile to welcome their loved ones home, and the Salvation Army is offering them hospitality services as they wait.
To help ease some of the stress, the Salvation Army is offering hot chocolate, coffee and food to the friends and family who still have several hours of waiting ahead of them. You can follow their updates on Twitter @SalArmyCoastAL.
Salvation Army spokesperson Katie Herrera said friends and family members are "really anxious" to see their loved ones, and many are frustrated with the cruise line. Some are worried about getting in touch with those on board to let them know they're waiting, since many of the passengers don't have cell phones with power or reception, she said.
Carnival has released two phone numbers for family members to get in touch with passengers or crew members on board the Triumph: 888-290-5095 or 305-406-5534
A multitude of media outlets are setting up in Mobile to cover the cruise ship's arrival, including a crew from FOX6 News. Reporter Vanessa Araiza is heading up our coverage from Mobile, and you can follow her Twitter updates @AraizaReport.
We will have live reports from Mobile in our 5, 5:30 and 6 p.m. newscasts. You can watch it on TV, online at www.FoxAlabamaLive.com or the WBRC smartphone app.
SLIDESHOW: Carnival Triumph's slow trip to shore
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