Relieved passengers wheeled their suitcases down the gangplank of a stricken cruise ship, cheering as they finally touched land after three nightmarish days adrift with limited food, backed-up toilets and dark cabins.
Pulled by six tug boats and escorted by Coast Guard cutters, the 952ft Carnival Splendor reached the dock in San Diego, California, at about 1630 GMT on Thursday.
The first group of passengers walked down a ramp about an hour later, dragging rolling suitcases behind them and entering a tent on the dock.
With the ship’s lifts out of order, port officials estimated it would take about four hours for everyone to leave the ship.
I love being back on land,” said passenger Ken King, who turned 42 on Thursday. Mr King said he and his travelling companion were celebrating their birthdays on the cruise, so Carnival chose them to be in the first group to leave the ship. “The staff were excellent. Only a few people on board were rude. The food was horrible. Starting at 5am on Monday, we didn’t have toilets for 13 hours,” he said.
Chris Harlen, a dental technician, offered a quick description of his experience after disembarking with his wife and two children, aged eight and ten. “It was gross when the toilets weren’t working. What can you do?” Mr Harlan said. “There were a lot of people getting smashed off warm beer.”
The ship left Long Beach on Sunday for a seven-day trip to the Mexican Riviera, only to return days early without ever reaching the beaches holidaymakers had hoped for.
A fire in the engine room knocked out the power on Monday morning, leaving passengers with no air conditioning, no hot food, no hot water, no casino. The swimming pool was off-limits because there was no way to pump chlorine.
Seventy-five buses were arriving to drive passengers north to Long Beach, where the Splendor is based. Passengers were also given the option of staying overnight at San Diego hotels. Aboard the ship, queues for cold food stretched for hours during the days after the power went out. Navy helicopters flew in Spam, Pop Tarts, canned crab meat and other goods for the passengers and crew.
Carnival first planned to haul the ship to the Mexican port of Ensenada, not far from the movie studio complex used to film Titanic, and bus passengers to the US. But the cruise line decided it would be better to go a little farther to San Diego, sparing passengers the 50-mile bus ride to the border. San Diego also offers more transportation and hotel options.