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CNN NEWSROOM

Families Eagerly Await Triumph to Reach Shore; Carnival Cruise Ship's Slow Arrival

Aired February 14, 2013 - 12:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Now, as Chad said, this would be catastrophic if this thing were to run aground. We spoke with the director of the port, Jimmy Lyons, and he said that because there isn't a lot of wiggle room with a ship this large, that it's very important that those pilots who know this area get out and onto that boat.

Those are some of the officials you saw kind of get onto the boat and they will then steer it in.

Now, let's talk about conditions here. It's been choppy all day. We're right now on a 43-foot cutter. So, we're feeling it a lot more than this huge ship would.

But the winds and the conditions are very important because they have to stay within that channel. I asked that to the director of the port. His major concern, he said there are a few doglegs or a few things that have to be navigated, but this is not the largest ship that has ever come up the terminal.

There are cargo ships that go to the shipyard here. The distinction, rather, for this ship is that it's the largest cruise ship to come into the terminal but only by 40 feet or so, so they're confident they can make this happen.

But because this is not coming in through its own power, those three tugs, they tell us that that will be the major challenge. We also asked if maybe there would be more tugs as it comes up this channel for that six-hour trek. He said maybe as long as five, so quite possibly we have not seen the maximum number of tugs that will assist in bringing the "triumph" into port, Ashleigh.

ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Victor, hold for a second.

Chad Myers, I want you to jump into this conversation with Victor Blackwell, because he's got the viewpoint from the actual waves and the currents. He's feeling the weather conditions as they are. And he just mentioned that that 400-meter-wide channel -- he's in Mobile Bay harbor right now. The 400-meter-wide channel has been navigated by larger vessels in the past, but I dare say they have had power.

So, more tugboats, the answer? Chad, jump in here, if you will.

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: No question about it, Ashleigh. That ship under full power with three bow thrusters and three stern thrusters which actually turn the boat sideways, they blow water, like a fan, one direction or the other, that boat can turn on a dime.

The middle can stay right in the middle and the dime would go right around the outside. That's how great this boat can steer itself when it's working. They actually can steer it to port with a joystick. No more wheels like you think about a pirate movie. This is literally a joystick almost driven by wire, and so, therefore, once you lose your power and you lose your wire, you lose all sense of steering with this boat.

So, this thing now is being pushed on one side by a tug, pushed on the other side, and as long as the wind is pushing right on the bow, right on the nose, there's no real yaw to this boat. It will not go left or the right.

As soon as the wind blows one side or the other, that boat will want to shift. There's a lot of sail, there's a lot of wind for it to push, it's called windage, and that's what will go left or go right.

I just saw the pilot, the harbor pilot, just on the tugboat or the towboat and it will tow the thing in there. There's probably a number of other pilots on board, but there's not a lot the pilot can do on the Carnival ship because it's literally in the water.

BANFIELD: It's not capable of being piloted, yes.

MYERS: It's a floating hotel at the time. So who's really in charge is the person in the Resolve Pioneer" which is the tugboat which is in front. It's the first tug. Why there aren't more and haven't been more tugs trying to get this thing to move faster, I don't know. The Triumph on its own has 46,000 horsepower to move it when it's running. That ...

BANFIELD: Forty-six-thousand?

MYERS: Forty-six-thousand horsepower.

BANFIELD: Forty-six-thousand horsepower.

MYERS: That tug alone only has 4,500 tug horsepower. That's how underpowered it is trying to move such a large vessel and, of course, when it's windy and victor showed the winds in the chop in the bay and the chop also offshore affecting these boats as well.

BANFIELD: Hey, Victor Blackwell, we're looking at pictures getting closer and closer now to some of those passengers.

And I think among those passengers, the girl in the yellow jacket, I'm being told -- is that you, Rebekah? Are you in a yellow jacket and, if so, can you wave up to the helicopter?

Rebekah, can you hear me? It's Ashleigh Banfield at CNN. I think I see your dad waving. Can you all -- there she is! We've made contact with Rebekah Poret.

REBEKAH PORET, 12-YEAR-OLD ABOARD CARNIVAL TRIUMPH: Hey.

BANFIELD: Hi! I'm so glad to make contact with you and visual. Which one's Allie, can you point to Allie?

R. PORET: She's the other little girl there.

BANFIELD: Wearing the pink shirt?

R. PORET: I don't know. I mean, I can't see. I can't see.

BANFIELD: Is this Mary? Mary, I think this is you? Is this Mary, Rebekah's mom, on the phone?

MARY PORET, MOTHER OF 12-YEAR-OLD GIRL ABOARD SHIP: This is Mary, Rebekah's mom.

BANFIELD: You must be beyond elated to be able to se your daughter for the first time!

M. PORET: I'm very excited.

BANFIELD: Oh, Mary, this is great. I'm glad that they were able to make their way up. They told us before -- I don't think we have our cell phone contact with them right now, but, Mary, they told us they were heading up to the tenth floor. Strangely enough, this is a 14- story ship, so whether they're on the tenth floor, they're at least within view of our cameras, our helicopter hovering close by the Carnival Triumph.

Rebekah, can you hear us yet? We're trying to establish our cell phone call with you again. Can you hear us?

R. PORET: I can -- I mean, I can give you her number.

BANFIELD: Well, I think we're having some -- we're having some issues. Don't -- don't -- whatever you do, don't give her number out over the live airways. We're up live.

They are waving at us now. They can see our helicopter and our cameras.

Mary, can you see them waving at you?

M. PORET: I'm on my phone and that's my video piece.

BANFIELD: Well, I'll tell you what, this is a great moment for us to be able at least visually connect you to the daughter you have not seen for seven days.

For anybody just joining us, our viewers, we want to let you know in the middle of your screen the young girl in the yellow jacket and the one in the pink jacket beside her are with her dads, that's Rebekah Poret, age 12, and Allie Taylor, age 10, along with their dads.

Their moms are on shore waiting for them to arrive. They are on board that Carnival Triumph," the disabled cruise ship, that is so close you can see it from shore now.

But so far that those tugboats have a long way to go to get them at the slow pace back to safe, dry land. But at least we can see them and we can now make contact with them.

Mary, this must be great for you to finally see them after so long.

M. PORET: It's excellent. I'm very happy.

BANFIELD: I'll bet. One of the things we should tell you. You can see people that look like they're dressed in bathrobes, they are, and that comes courtesy to us, firsthand reporting actually, from Larry Poret and his daughter Rebekah. That's Mary's daughter as well, Rebekah.

They said it is so cold right now where they are that everyone's been grabbing the bathrobes, because so many people thought they'd be on a tropical vacation, they don't have warm clothes.

I think even Rebekah said she forgot to bring a jacket, because why would you if you're going on a beautiful cruise. It is 43 degrees at least in Mobile which is about 45 miles away or so.

So, it can't be too much different than about 43 degrees. So, all those people who have tried to escape the -- and I'm not going to be able to couch this, the squalid smell on board that ship with the raw sewage sloshing about in hallways and showers and toilets and walls, they have gone outside for the fresh air.

And now instead of it being a hot and uncomfortable cruise, it is a very cold and uncomfortable cruise.

As we watch these live pictures, David Mattingly is on shore. He's in the port of Mobile. David, I'm watching on the right-hand side of our screen as that ship has now come into view, but as Chad Myers says, so close but yet so far. They still have that channel to navigate.

DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right. And it's going to be a very slow, agonizing process, and that long fascinating conversation you were having with Larry Poret, you could hear the anxiety. You could hear the frustration. You could hear the fatigue, and you can multiply that by about 4,000. That should give you an idea of what's going on that ship.

Something to point out here, we heard from a vice president of Carnival Cruise Lines who's here on the scene, he had a press conference just shortly before we heard from Larry Poret, that vice president telling us that the ship was in what he said good shape. He was talking about the generator they had airlifted on board so that they would be able to provide more hot meals.

But now that we're talking to Larry and others on board, we're hearing that a whole lot hasn't changed since we first got those phone calls earlier in the week.

Remember, we haven't heard from these people in days now. It was only those first frantic calls after that fire and after the problems first started on the ship.

And Larry, I had a conversation with him shortly before he spoke with you, he was telling me, there's been no cleanup on board that vessel at all. So, all that sewage that sloshed out into the hallways and the carpets and the rooms, that's still there. And he says on top of that he says they're also dealing with a strong mildew smell going out through the ship now. He says a lot of people are coughing. They're worried about their health. They just want to get home, and you're hearing the frustration in his voice.

I also had a very short conversation with Rebekah's friend, Allie, who is 10 years old. I asked her how she's doing, she said she's fine, they're enduring like they are all having to do on there. I asked her what's the worst thing that she has to deal with it right now, she said she has to do her business in a can. That's her exact words.

BANFIELD: Oh, a 10-year-old.

MATTINGLY: Right, even though there are restrooms now functioning on board, it's clearly not enough to meet the demand of those people on board. And poor Allie was telling me that's something that she's really not very happy with right now.

BANFIELD: David, we're seeing pictures of passengers who have towels and they're waving them, hard to understand if they're waving them to say hello or if they're waving them to say help.

But as Larry had mentioned before, some of the signs that have been hanging out over the balconies of that massive yacht, some of the signs have said help us, and maybe partially in jest, but really partially not so much in jest.

You were just -- David, you were just referring to Rebekah, who was talking to us on the cell phone earlier. I think we've re-established contact with her on board that ship.

Rebekah, can you hear me again?

R. PORET: Hello?

BANFIELD: Hi. You've made it out on the deck, right, of the tenth floor now?

R. PORET: Yes.

BANFIELD: And are you wearing the yellow jacket that we were seeing earlier waving up at our helicopter?

R. PORET: Yes, I'm wearing the yellow jacket that you all saw.

BANFIELD: And is Allie wearing the pink sweatshirt that we saw earlier? Is that the two of you?

R. PORET: Yeah, she's wearing the pink shirt.

BANFIELD: Our helicopter is hovering. It's moving to a new position, but we're trying to get back and get a visual on you. But your mom, Mary, is still on the phone with us. Mary, you can hear us, right?

M. PORET: Yes, I can hear you.

BANFIELD: All right, Mary, now that you can see your daughter, do you want to say anything to her now that you've actually had a visual contact with her for the first time in seven days?

M. PORET: I'm just -- miss her so much. I'm just ready to get her home and just get her off that ship and get her in my arms.

R. PORET: Hi, mom.

BANFIELD: Rebekah, can you hear your mom?

R. PORET: Yes, I heard her.

BANFIELD: You can go ahead and talk to her and tell her -- we can see you now, Rebekah, you can talk to your mom and tell her about the conditions you're in right now.

R. PORET: I can't wait to see her either. I can't wait to be back home and see all my friends and come back to school and see my teachers and I just can't wait to be back home.

BANFIELD: Can you wave to us, Rebekah?

We've got you guys. We've been taking pictures of you and video of you, as well as trying to get our live cameras.

And right now, we're actually showing some video of you as you were waving earlier, so any viewers that have just joined us, you can see these are some of the passengers on board the Carnival Triumph as they get closer and closer to shore, in particular two young girls with their dads, Rebekah Poret, age 12, and Allie Taylor, age 10, with their dads, again, on board along with another 300-plus -- or 3,000 live -- or excuse me, 3,000 passengers and 1,000 crew members.

And now we're back to our live helicopter pictures.

Rebekah, have you been able to have a longer conversation with your mom to let her know about the conditions other than what she's been hearing on TV? At this point you have an ability to talk to her live if you'd like.

M. PORET: Rebekah?

R. PORET: Hey, Momma.

M. PORET: How are -- how you doing?

R. PORET: I'm good. I'm cold, but I'm good.

M. PORET: OK. Well, I promise you, when I pick you up from that ship, I'm going to have a nice, warm, snuggly blanket for you, OK?

R. PORET: Good. M. PORET: Good. I love you.

R. PORET: (INAUDIBLE) there, too.

M. PORET: Ma'am?

R. PORET: I said have some McDonalds there, too. We're hungry.

M. PORET: Oh, I bet you are hungry, baby. You want McDonalds?

R. PORET: I want something! Human food.

M. PORET: Anything you want to eat tonight is yours. No matter what it is. I don't care even if I don't like it, we'll take you there.

R. PORET: OK,
M. PORET: OK? Will you hand the phone to Allie and I'll hand my phone to Kim so Miss Kim can talk to Allie?

R. PORET: So, you want to put Allie on the phone so she can talk to Miss Kim?

M. PORET: Yes. And I'm going to hand my phone to Miss Kim, OK?

R. PORET: OK. Here's Allie.

M. PORET: I love you, baby. I'll talk to you in a few minutes.

BANFIELD: Allie is about to talk to her mom, Kim McKerreghan. She's Allie's mom and they're going to connect for the first time.

R. PORET: OK, here's Allie.

KIM MCKERREGHAN, MOTHER OF 10-YEAR-OLD ABOARD CARNIVAL TRIUMPH: Hello? Hello?

ALLIE MCKERREGHAN, 10-YEAR-OLD ABOARD CARNIVAL TRIUMPH : Hello?

BANFIELD: Allie?

K. MCKERREGHAN: Hi, baby!

A. MCKERREGHAN: Hey.

K. MCKERREGHAN: How are you? (INAUDIBLE)

A. MCKERREGHAN: What?

K. MCKERREGHAN: Awesome. Awesome, I miss you and I love you so much.

A. MCKERREGHAN: I know. Are they going to let us get off tonight?

K. MCKERREGHAN: Yes, baby, you're going to get off that boat tonight.

A. MCKERREGHAN: Tonight, they're letting us get off tonight. K. MCKERREGHAN: Yes. They're bringing that boat in. You all are not going to have to sleep again tonight on that boat.

A. MCKERREGHAN: Hopefully.

K. MCKERREGHAN: Well, I sure miss you. I can't wait to give you a big old hug. And see your cute little face.

A. MCKERREGHAN: Which way are we going?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That way.

A. MCKERREGHAN: Land. We see land right now.

K. MCKERREGHAN: Yay! It's just going to get bigger.

A. MCKERREGHAN: Yes, it's gotten a little bigger since I saw it in front of the boat. I'm getting sick.

K. MCKERREGHAN: You're getting sick?

A. MCKERREGHAN: Yes.

K. MCKERREGHAN: Are you OK if you go into your room so you don't get so sick?

A. MCKERREGHAN: What?

K. MCKERREGHAN: Are you OK?

A. MCKERREGHAN: Yes.

K. MCKERREGHAN: OK.

A. MCKERREGHAN: I saw your Facebook status.

K. MCKERREGHAN: You did?

A. MCKERREGHAN: Yes.

K. MCKERREGHAN: Well, you ought to pull up CNN and see your Facebook status.

A. MCKERREGHAN: What?

K. MCKERREGHAN: I said you ought to pull up on CNN -- hello?

BANFIELD: All right. Speaking of CNN, I just want to update the viewers who are watching. If you're just joining us right now, the visual that you are getting is the first image of this ship as it approaches shore getting closer and closer to Mobile, Alabama. The Carnival Triumph. All of its 900 feet being pushed and pulled and slugged through that water.

But it is still another 50 miles or so to go and they are going very slowly. Slowly but surely. Expected to make land sometime between about six and nine hours from now. They will be dockside in Mobile, Alabama. Mobile, Alabama, here you come, at about the pace of a lawn mower, sadly.

And on the phones you've been hearing the conversations between Kim McKerreghan, who is on shore, and her daughter, Allie Taylor, who has been one of the passengers on board that ship. She's on the tenth floor, the deck, of that ship with her friend, Rebekah Poret, and their dads as they are able to speak live over top, you know, live -- as they've been able to speak live over the airways via the video shot that the helicopter is actually providing for us and the cell phones that they've been able to charge on the ship and talking to their -- to their moms on shore.

So, boy, I love television when you're able to reconnect a mom and her daughter after seven days, I'll tell you.

Our chopper shot is having to move away somewhat, but this is a great moment to be able to record at least, because, listen, just imagine for a moment that there's a building with 4,000 people in it and they can't get out for a week and it's been hot with no toilets and limited food and they can't communicate with anyone on the outside. Now, just shove it out to sea. That's what the circumstance has been for the last five days of this seven-day ordeal. The first part of the cruise obviously terrific. The last five days, an absolute nightmare. The ship listing. The sewage overflowing. The food difficult to get.

But they are in the final stretch, folks, and that's what the final stretch looks like to them. Our chopper showing you they are getting closer to land. But you know what, it is still a long way to go.

Other vessels have been speeding out to this ship. One after the other, vessels have been coming to this ship. Unclear exactly who's on board, but I can tell you we do know this, that the customs and border patrol agents, who would normally meet them on land and then process them and stamp their passports, they're going out to the ship to do it while they're stuck there so that when they get to land, that's one less hassle they have to deal with.

Pilot boats have also been coming out with executives from Carnival Cruises and agents from Carnival Cruises who will help to facilitate this whole ordeal. And then, of course, there are the additional supplies that continuously need to make it to this 900-foot, 14-story ship that up until now was a vacation and a fantasy and has become a real nightmare for the 3,143 passengers who have been on board. And let's not forget the 1,086 crew members who have had it pretty bad as well.

Live pictures of you. The sun is out. It may not feel like it, but the sun is out in Mobile Bay. We're going to take a quick break and be right back with our live reporting in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BANFIELD: I want to welcome our viewers from CNN around the world as we continue our breaking news coverage right now of a stranded ship that is out to sea in the Gulf of Mexico, but getting so incredibly close to shore. You're looking live at the Carnival Triumph with all of its 4,000-plus people on board who have been stuck without electricity, without adequate sewage systems, without appropriate food for five days. What has now been a seven-day trip, five days of it have been sheer hell.

As we zoom in with the helicopter, the images of the people on board who are now out on all of those balconies has been nothing short of incredible. They are wrapped in bathrobes because the temperature has dropped precipitously from the beautiful tropical vacation to a balmy 43 degrees. Many of them without coats or winter clothing, having to resort to either the blankets from their state rooms or the bathrobes that they've been able to find. And some of them have taken those blankets and have, instead, hung them off the aft of the boat.

There's a picture of the stern of the Carnival Triumph, and those signs say things like "help us." Some of them in jest. Some of them not so much. Many of them waving to us. It's hard to see, but you can -- certainly someone's got a Valentine's Day message saying "love you." This one saying, "help get us to" -- hard to say. Something Louisiana. Maybe Eunice (ph), Louisiana. "Help get us to Louisiana, Eunice, Louisiana."

So obviously some of these people will take this in stride. Others will not be so pleased with the ordeal that they've been through.

Our David Mattingly, as we watch these exclusive pictures from the Gulf of Mexico with just about 50 miles or so to go at a snail's pace, seven knots, which is about as fast as a snowblower or a lawnmower. Clearly they're in the homestretch, but there's so much awaiting them on shore. What kind of help have they got there?

MATTINGLY: Well, Ashleigh, that communication blackout that we've had for several days is over now that everyone's close enough that they can reach cell service. And you can believe there are so many people here hanging on every word as those calls continue to come in. Rusty Adkins is among them. He actually drove all the way down here from Indiana --

RUSTY ADKINS, FATHER OF 18-YEAR-OLD TRIUMPH PASSENGER: Yes, sir.

MATTINGLY: To greet your daughter when she comes in. Why was she taking this trip?

ADKINS: She got this trip -- she graduated early from high school with honors.

MATTINGLY: And this was a present for her --

ADKINS: Yes, sir.

MATTINGLY: To tell her, good job. And now you've heard from her since she's got back into cell range. What is she telling you?

ADKINS: Well, I guess the first thing is, is that it looks like a cover-up to us. The sheets and the beds and all that was on top of the main deck -- MATTINGLY: Where people were sleeping?

ADKINS: Yes, sir. The crew was made to clean all that up. My understanding was, when your chopper came into the area where they could see view with their eyes, they decided they'd better clean all that up. So that's kind of like being swept under the rug kind of thing.

MATTINGLY: Well, tell us, what is she saying about the conditions she's had to endure there? What is she seeing right now?

ADKINS: They're still pretty deplorable. The ship's listed to one side. Grease and sewage and fluids are building up on one side of the ship. And she said it's kind of nasty. So, it's not -- it's not a very good situation at all.

MATTINGLY: Over the past few days, no one's been able to reach anybody on that ship. You've been trying as well, haven't you?

ADKINS: Yes, sir. Yes, sir. Every day, several times a day.

MATTINGLY: And since you haven't been able to get through, were you trying to talk to Carnival as well to get information?

ADKINS: Oh, my. We've tried Carnival two or three times a day to the hotline. And we've been very disappointed about the communication with Carnival, with the folks back at home, particularly us, just letting us know what the conditions really, truly are. And I'm very disappointed about the communication skills.

MATTINGLY: Your daughter's 18. She's on that boat with her aunt and three cousins.

ADKINS: Right.

MATTINGLY: I mean you've got so many of your family members on there. Have you heard from others as well?

ADKINS: Yes, sir. Again, they all called approximately about 10, 15 minutes ago for the first time that we've had contact with them all week. So, of course, we were very excited about that. And they want to be off this ship very, very bad.

MATTINGLY: What made you want to drive all the way from Indianapolis? Did you not trust the company to get them back home to you or did you just want to be here?

ADKINS: No, I don't -- there was not a mistrust on that part. The concern was, is that this is my little girl and I want to get her back in protection of my own.

MATTINGLY: What are you going to say to her when you see her?

ADKINS: I'm not sure if I'll be able to say anything. Probably just a big hug and a kiss and maybe roll around on the ground a little bit.

MATTINGLY: Rusty, thank you very much for sharing your story with us.

ADKINS: Yes, sir.

MATTINGLY: Ashleigh, back to you.

BANFIELD: All right, David Mattingly, excellent interviews with one of the fathers who is anxiously awaiting the return of his daughter, who is somewhere on board that massive vessel. The passengers, many of them, have been hanging out of their balconies, not maybe so much for the cooler air, because it's cold. It is now 43 degrees. But maybe for the fresher air, because it does not smell good on that ship. The sewage system has been backing up.

We are going to take a quick break and be back with our live coverage as this yacht gets closer and closer to shore and those 4,000 people get closer and closer to finally getting off what has only become a nightmare to them.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)