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Tears and big hugs as cruise passengers reunite with families in Mobile

By Erin Burnett, Martin Savidge and Chelsea J. Carter, CNN
February 15, 2013 -- Updated 1240 GMT (2040 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: A number of passengers boarded buses for New Orleans
  • Briana Adkins was reunited with her family at the Alabama Cruise Terminal
  • The Triumph was left virtually dead in the water after a fire on Sunday
  • It arrived at the Port of Mobile late Thursday night

Mobile, Alabama (CNN) -- Brianna Adkins stepped off the Carnival Triumph early Friday and into the arms of her anxious parents, bringing to an end the nightmarish journey aboard a crippled ship that was towed to port days after it was due.

It was a big, tight hug between 18-year-old Adkins and her mom and dad, the kind filled with the emotion that reflected the days of uncertainty after the cruise ship was left virtually dead in the water after a reported engine fire knocked out power.

"Just to be with them, just to let them know I'm safe," Adkins said, fighting back tears. "It means just so much to be with them ... you have no idea."

My celebration trup on the Carnival Triumph: From joy to misery

A near party-atmosphere abounded aboard the cruise ship as it docked late Thursday at the Alabama Cruise Terminal, where some passengers hung over balcony rails, while others danced and waved signs.

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"I kissed the ground when I got off," said Adkins of Noblesville, Indiana, just north of Indianapolis.

The saga began unfolding early Sunday morning as the Carnival Triumph, originally carrying 3,143 passengers and 1,086 crew members, was making its way to Galveston, Texas, when a fire left the vessel listing to the side and drifting in the Gulf of Mexico.

The ship drifted nearly 90 miles before enough tugboats arrived to tow the massive cruise ship to Mobile.

Almost immediately, reports emerged on social media of deteriorating conditions aboard the ship.

Passengers reported sewage sloshing in the hallways and, in some cases, running down the walls of cabins. Still others said the power outage forced people, especially those in the lower decks or inside cabins, to drag their mattresses to outside decks because of stifling heat.

The power outage also made it impossible for passengers to call loved ones.

Why did it take five days?

For those who were able to get messages out -- drafting on wireless from cruise ships dropping supplies -- it was a few moments to reassure loved ones they were OK.

Still, for Adkins and others there was nothing better than being able to put both feet on firm ground while wrapping their arms around family members.

"The unknown was the worst part," Adkins mother, Beth, said.

About 75 families were on hand, according to a spokesman for the City of Mobile, at the Alabama Cruise Terminal.

Family members who spoke to CNN said they had come from Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana and Texas. Some had come in as early as Wednesday but the bulk of people arrived Thursday afternoon, with each hour bringing a few more cars.

After a bad cruise, can you cruise into court?

Most of the anxious families couldn't bear the thought of their relatives being on a bus for hours and had gotten hotel rooms in Mobile where the homecoming would include a long shower and a meal.

Brooklyn Burgess, 18, got off the ship scanning the crowd for father and brother, who had driven from their Carthage, Mississippi, home to get them and bring them home.

There in the crowd, she and her mother, who was traveling with her, found the family.

Her father picked her up in a tight hug, and Burgess started to cry.

"I said I don't have a boyfriend. ... I sure hope somebody who missed me is there waiting for me," she said, her eyes red from tears.

Video: Passengers spell out help

For others, it will be a little longer before they connect with loved ones.

Brittany Ferguson and Kendall Jenkins, both 24, got off the ship cheering and dancing. Jenkins went so far as to lay kneel down and kiss the ground.

"We won this cruise at a Houston Rockets game. Lucky us," Ferguson said, laughing.

They are among the many who boarded one of the more than 100 motor coaches that were reserved by Carnival to take them to New Orleans where many will overnight before continuing their journey home. The two are headed home to Houston.

But that's OK with the Ferguson and Jenkins because they have "land under our feet."

Spate of fires hits cruise industry

CNN's Erin Burnett and Martin Savidge reported from Mobile, Alabama; Chelsea J. Carter wrote from Atlanta.

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