One of the surviving passengers on the cruise ship Costa Concordia, made the comparison. "It was like a scene from the Titanic." Journalist Mara Parmegiani was talking about the experience she had just lived through when her cruise ship struck a reef off the coast of Italy, ripping a 160-foot gash in the hull. The ship rapidly took on water, and laid over on her side.
Imagine being one of the more than 4,000 passengers on that ship. What would you do to get out alive?
As I write this, a day after the accident, the report is that there are 3 known dead, dozens injured (some gravely), and 69 still missing. More than 4,000 were evacuated to shore through the use of lifeboats, the efforts of five Italian military helicopter crews, local ferries, and other boaters who saw the incident and came to assist with the rescue throughout the night.
One of the problems was that, as the ship continued to roll onto its side, passengers and crew became trapped and couldn't use the remaining ship's lifeboats. On the port side, the boats were at such a high angle they were unable to be lowered into the water, and the lifeboats on the starboard side were already underwater.
"It was so unorganized. Our evacuation drill was scheduled for 5 p.m.. We joked what if something happened today," said passenger Melissa Goduti.
Ladies in elegant dinner clothes and high heels, and men in tuxedos and dress shoes were suddenly fighting for their lives to escape a ship that was falling over. Everything that wasn't bolted down crashed to the floor, then to the wall, leaving shards of glass and china to shred the feet and hands of those scrambling to find an exit.
Needless to say, it was chaos.
Trapped in a sinking steel multi-story floating hotel with thousands of other people, the situation is ripe for disaster. So…what would you do to get out alive?
- By all means, attend the mandatory evacuation drills, and pay attention to what is said there.
- But be proactive. Don't wait for the official evacuation drill. As soon as you board a vessel, do a recon to find out where the lifeboats are and where the life vests are stowed.
- Read the emergency card on the back of your stateroom door to learn the location of the evacuation muster area for your cabin. Go to that spot ahead of time and discover at least two ways to get there from your room.
- Recognize that an emergency might happen when you are away from your cabin, and always be thinking of how you would get from wherever you are to the evacuation site.
- In every room, pay attention to where the primary exits are. In a crisis, most people will rush for the most obvious exits, so plan secondary escape routes as well.
- Position yourself so you are near an exit and can be one of the first out of the room before the crowd forms.
- Don't be a nervous Nellie, but if you suspect something is amiss, don't wait for the alarm — politely excuse yourself, take your loved-ones and get to a safer location. It's better to apologize later for your sudden departure if you were mistaken than to be late in taking action.
- In an emergency, the captain will sound the general alarm, consisting of 7 short blasts followed by 1 long blast. That's the cue for everyone to move to their designated lifeboat stations and stand by for instruction by the ship's personnel.
- If you must jump from the ship, put on a life vest first. As the ship rolls over, don't worry about being sucked down — worry instead about being clobbered by something (or someone) falling from the deck. Swim away from the ship to a safe distance.
- In the water, cluster together with your loved-ones and take the "huddle" position, facing each other to share body warmth to help ward off hypothermia.
- Do whatever you can to call the attention of lifeboats or other means of rescue. This is when it would be good to have a small LED flashlight in your pocket, as well as a mirror and a signal whistle. These are small items, but they can save your life.
Now, relax and enjoy the cruise.