Passengers tell of pandemonium aboard cruise ship off Italy
REPORTING FROM ROME -- Divers scoured the waters for survivors and passengers told frightening tales of pandemonium Saturday after a luxury cruise liner was ripped open by rocks submerged off the Italian coast.
At least three people died and 40 others were injured in the accident near Tuscany, which forced more than 4,200 passengers and crew to abandon the cruise ship Costa Concordia Friday evening. Dramatic photos taken Saturday showed the jumbo liner tipped over in the water, a long gash on its hull.
Coast guard authorities said they were calling off underwater search operations for about 70 people who remained unaccounted for, citing of low visibility as darkness fell late Saturday afternoon off the small island of Giglio.
Authorities said it was possible that the missing people were trapped in the bottom of the boat but that it was also likely that some who had been rescued had simply not made contact with authorities.
A judicial investigation has been opened into the cause of the disaster. News reports said that the captain was being questioned.
Rescue officials said that many people had jumped into the water as the ship continued to list to starboard and take on water, while others made a chaotic rush to board lifeboats. Many were able to make it themselves to the rocky shore of the Island, where residents helped them and took them to nearby hotels and homes.
Frightened passengers told Italian television that they had been interrupted during dinner by a loud roar followed by a loss of electricity. Shortly after, the ship began to lean to the right and plates and silverware slid to the floor.
A loudspeaker announcement said that all was under control and that the lights had gone out because of a problem with the power system.
Passengers interviewed by Italian television said they understood quickly that the problem wasn't merely electrical. Many complained that initial emergency action on the part of the crew of the Costa Concordia was woefully inadequate and that the crew appeared to be unprepared to help passengers to safety in the crisis.
-- Sarah Delaney
Photo: The Costa Concordia cruise ship just off the island of Giglio, in northern Italy, early Saturday after running aground. Credit: Maurizio Degl'innocenti/EPA