A Florida burglar alarm company owner and his wife were among those who made it out alive when the Costa Concordia cruise ship ran aground off the coast of Italy on Jan. 13, according to a recent story in The Miami Herald. As I'm writing this today, 16 people died in that disaster and at least 17 still are missing.
I have not yet been able to reach Luis Manny Hernandez, 42, of Homestead, Fla., who The Miami Herald said finally managed to escape the sinking ship along with his wife, Karen Camacho, 34, after a terrifying ordeal. But the newspaper account suggests that one thing the ship lacked—along with a captain that had good seamanship skills and any semblance of courage—was a mass notification system. It appears the 4,200 passengers were basically left to themselves to figure out what to do when the ship struck some rocks that Friday evening. I just wonder how many more lives could have been saved if an orderly evacuation had taken place.
The newspaper said Hernandez and his wife had saved up to take the cruise for their 10th wedding anniversary.
Here’s how The Miami Herald, in a Jan. 15 story, describes what happened as the couple were enjoying their dinner:
The nightmare began just after the couple had been served their vichyssoise; they were anticipating the main course of lamb shanks with cream of polenta.
“Suddenly, we heard a crash and the boat was shaking,’’ said Camacho, a Honduras native who works for a company that exports raw material to make medicines in Latin America. “All the plates, the cups, the bottle of wine — everything — fell on us and then shattered on the floor. I was wearing a little dress with high heels.
“I told my husband, ‘The boat is tilting to one side,’ and then the other, and he said, ‘Everything is fine. We’re in 2012. There’s too much technology for the boat to go down.’ ’’
The women from Washington [whom the couple had just met at dinner] — Lynn Kaelin, 61, and former Miamian Karen Kois, 60 — immediately left the table, but the Homestead couple remained in the dining room. When the lights on the ship went dead soon afterward, the married couple grabbed metal rails along the wall and treaded in the dark up the steep incline toward their cabin. Camacho quickly swapped her high heels for low-heeled boots and slipped into a coat. They both got into their life vests. And out they went.
When they made it to the highest side of the boat, the side out of the water, Camacho and Hernandez scrambled to find a lifeboat. But it was chaos, she said, people wailing in the darkness, “families with little kids crashing into doors and walls, chairs flying everywhere.’’ They finally found a raft, but Hernandez did his duty by helping several others, children among them, get into the boat before he and his wife did.
When he and Camacho were ready to jump in, they were told there wasn’t enough room. Frantically, they went to “three, four’’ more rafts, he said, denied access each time. Finally, the normally soft-spoken, shy Hernandez said he shouted: ‘I’m getting in and you can’t stop me!’ and the two forced their way onto the raft.
Then, more panic.
The raft wouldn’t detach from the ship, and everyone bolted.
“No one knew what was going on,’’ Camacho said. “I’ve been on cruises before from the United States. They give you safety classes before you leave. They tell you, ‘This is where you have to be in case of emergency.’ Here they did nothing. They knew nothing.
“It was chaos.’’
Said Hernandez: “I was scared, but I didn’t let her know.’’
He grabbed his wife’s hand and led her back through the dining room to the other side of the ship. This time, instead of going up, they slid all the way down on the floor filled with food and beverage, toward the submerged portion of the massive vessel, using couches to cushion their arrival. “There was glass all over,’’ Camacho said. “Tables. Chairs. It was dark. It was slippery.
“My husband just kept saying, ‘Keep going!’ I cut my finger, I hurt my knee, but we got to the other side. It felt like we were skating.’’
They finally entered an orange raft from the fourth floor of the ship, but the vessel was tilted so far down that “we were maybe two feet from the water,’’ Hernandez said.
The two were taken to Giglio off the Tuscan coast, then ferried to a bus that took them to a school. Later, they were driven 2 ½ hours to Rome.