A luxury cruise ship ran aground off the coast of Tuscany, gashing open the hull and forcing some 4,200 people aboard to evacuate aboard lifeboats to a nearby island early Saturday. At least eight were dead, and dozens were missing, the Italian coast guard said.
Three bodies were recovered from the sea, said Coast Guard Cmdr. Francesco Paolillo. There were reports that three others had died after the accident late Friday night, but as the hours passed, those reports were not yet confirmed, he said.
Helicopters plucked to safety some 50 people who were trapped on the Costa Concordia after the liner listed so badly they couldn't launch lifeboats, Paolillo told The Associated Press by telephone from his command in the Tuscan port city of Livorno.
Costa Concordia ship after running aground (Photo: Reuters)
"We were having dinner aboard when we heard a loud noise, like that of the keel being dragged over something," passenger Luciano Castro, who is a journalist, told Italian state radio early Saturday. The lights went out "and there were scenes of panic, glasses falling to the floor," Castro said.
Another passenger on what set out to be an eight-day pleasure cruise around Mediterranean ports, Mara Parmegiani, also a journalist, told the ANSA news agency that "it was like a scene from the Titanic."
Castro said some passengers told them that some people jumped into the sea to try to swim to safety on the reefs of nearby Giglio Island, although he didn't see anybody do that. He did say he met one survivor on land, a young crewman from Asia, who told him he swam to the reefs.
Passengers waiting to be evacuated (Photo: EPA)
As dawn neared, a painstaking search of the ship's interior was being conducted to see if any one might have been trapped inside, Paolillo said. "No one is leaning out, shouting, calling that they need help, but until the inspection is completed, we won't know."
"There are some 2,000 cabins, and the ship isn't straight," Paolillo said, referring to the Concordia's dramatic tilt on its right side. "I'll leave it to your imagination to understand how they (the rescuers) are working as they move through it."
Some Concordia crew members were still aboard to help the coast guard rescuers inspect "every millimeter" of the ship, he said.
Paolillo said it wasn't immediately known if the dead were passengers or crew, nor were the nationalities of the victims immediately known. It wasn't clear how they died.
Some 30 people were reported injured, most of them suffering only bruises, but at least two people were reported in grave condition.
Paolillo said the Concordia was believed to have set sail with 3,206 passengers and 1,023 crew members.
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