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Locals in good spirits upon return (Video)

By Jessica Priest
Feb. 14, 2013 at 11:05 p.m.
Updated Feb. 14, 2013 at 8:15 p.m.

The disabled Carnival Lines cruise ship Triumph is towed to harbor off Mobile Bay, Ala., Thursday. The ship with more than 4,200 passengers and crew members has been idled for nearly a week in the Gulf of Mexico following an engine room fire.

If you have family or friends who were passengers on the Triumph, please call the Victoria Advocate newsroom at 361-574-1222, so a reporter can tell their story.

A mere 20 feet was all that stood between Victoria resident Bettye Pribyl and the first piece of dry land she'd seen in five days.

Bettye Pribyl, her husband, David Pribyl, their daughter Melissa McDavid, their son-in-law, Andrew McDavid and their grandchildren, ages 2, 10 and 12, were farther up a rambunctious line to disembark the distressed Carnival cruise ship Triumph at 10 p.m. Thursday.

Sirens were roaring and dozens of cameras were trained on their long-awaited exit.

A fire in the Triumph's engine room paralyzed the 893-foot vessel in the Gulf of Mexico on Sunday. Tugboats carried it to Mobile, Ala., late Thursday night after it drifted too far off the course of what was supposed to be a four-day trip from Galveston to Cozumel.

"Wow," Bettye Pribyl said, gasping. "I can see outside. We're really, really close."

They'd spent the afternoon on the deck growing more disheartened as there was delay after delay in their arrival. They cheered themselves up by singing "Sweet Home Alabama."

This was Pribyl's first cruise. Her daughters told her it would be the trip of a lifetime.

"This was not what I expected. I heard you'd gain weight. Well, I think I lost some," she said, adding she has just one injection left if her diabetes condition worsens.

Margie Swannack had a similar reaction when she caught a glimpse of the Alabama coast line earlier in the afternoon. She cried.

She, along with her husband and six other Meyersville couples, were holed up about 4 p.m. Thursday in a seventh-floor bedroom.

"We're all safe, and that's the main thing," Swannack said.

Swannack and her husband, Dr. John Swannack, Johnny Jank and his wife, Virginia Jank, Terri Jank and her husband, Mitchell Jank, Brian Wendell and his wife, Laurie Wendell, Kevin Bodden and his wife Beverly Bodden, Dorren Clutter and his wife, Kim Clutter remained in good spirits throughout Thursday, playing cards to pass the time they spent adrift on a tilting ship in dismal conditions.

"We are trying not to let it get to us," she said by telephone about 4 p.m., as the they were still some 30 miles away from port. "Somebody just has to make a joke about something and we laugh and move on."

Although the Crossroads residents dined Thursday on hot meals -- lobsters, steak and grilled chicken, Swannack said they had spent nearly two hours waiting in line for items such as yogurt, cereal, fruit and cucumber and tomato sandwiches throughout the week they were stranded.

But even the rationed food wasn't as bad as what she fears they might have been breathing in -- fumes from the feces from some of the more than 3,000 passengers who have had nowhere to go to the restroom but in overflowed toilets and red, biohazard bags.

"Sometimes, your lungs burn. ... It is so degrading," she said, adding they had to relocate from their downstairs cabin after it was flooded with waste. "Modesty went out the window, let me tell you."

Another Victoria passenger, Lois Cano, reported similar conditions. She went on the impromptu Caribbean vacation to celebrate her husband John Cano's recent retirement from the U.S. Postal Service. She never imagined this would be how they'd remember their first cruise, let alone spend Valentine's Day.

"We've been sleeping under the stars," she said, sarcastically, of how they camped out on deck with hundreds of other people with just their pillows, a blanket and a flashlight until a rain storm rolled in.

"The stench is unbearable and is just about everywhere," she said of how sewage was seeping through the carpet and down the walls.

Both Swannack and Cano were concerned about their health.

Swannack, who thought some people were exaggerating about the state of the ship, was making preparations to get checked out at a makeshift clinic once they got off the ship.

Cano said she's suffered headaches and her sister-in-law now has a boil on her skin. She'll make an appointment to see a Victoria doctor and get blood work done.

They said society fortunately didn't deteriorate alongside the defunct, 13-year-old Triumph.

A man accused someone of hogging a coveted telephone charging outlet with too many devices. The argument didn't get physical and security was quickly called, Swannack said.

And, at about 5 p.m., Cano could hear crew members strumming instruments in a nearby club room.

"They're trying to distract us. They're doing all they can," she said, complimenting the staff.

Everyone can't wait to hug their loved ones, take a shower and sleep in their own bed.

John Swannack, a Victoria dentist, said secretaries have rescheduled his appointments. This is the first time in 40 years that he's missed work.

The Meyersville party rented two limos for their voyage back to Texas.

"We're at least going back in style," Margie Swannack said, chuckling.

She said she'd consider going on a cruise again.

"Just not on Carnival," she said.

Cano said she just can't wait to see her 2-year-old granddaughter, who she babysits four days during the week.

"This was a nightmare. ... We just want to get out of here," Cano said at about 6 p.m. "It's so nice to hear from someone from Victoria."

Related stories:

Triumph passengers could seek legal advice after enduring powerless cruise

Disabled behemoth Triumph docks at Alabama port

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