Discuss as:

Stranded cruise ship passenger: 'It's just a nightmare'

After days of enduring sweltering temperatures and no working toilets, the passengers and crew of the Carnival cruise ship Triumph are preparing to arrive back in the U.S. later today. NBC's Janet Shamlian reports, and a few of the ship's passengers speak by phone about the miserable conditions.

A passenger aboard the disabled Carnival Triumph cruise ship likened conditions there to the Superdome in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina as the vessel was being towed to port after being stuck in the Gulf of Mexico for five days.

“It reminds me of hurricane evacuations when you have no power – like Katrina in the dome, except it’s afloat,’’ passenger Jamie Baker of Lake Jackson, Texas, told Savannah Guthrie in a phone interview on TODAY.

“Pipes are busting. I know sewers are backing up, water is in the cabins – it’s just a nightmare.’’

The ship is set to arrive at port in Mobile, Ala., between 8 and 11 p.m. ET, and disembarking the more than 4,000 passengers is expected to take several hours. The Triumph has gone five days without power after a fire broke out in the engine room on Sunday.

The toilets aren’t working and there is no electricity other than the emergency lighting in the hallways, Baker told Guthrie.

“We have to (use) bags in the vanity trash can (for a bathroom), take it into the hall and put it into bigger bags,’’ Baker said.

Regular meals have also not been available.

“Food is very sporadic,’’ Baker said. “Sometimes they’ll have burgers where you’ll have to wait in line literally for four hours. Most of the time … by the time you get to the end of the line, they just have sandwiches.”

Carnival has challenged accounts by passengers that the ship has become unsanitary. The company has booked hotel rooms in New Orleans and Mobile for passengers on Thursday night and has arranged 20 charter flights to take them to Houston on Friday. Carnival also has brought in dozens of buses for those who want to leave immediately on Thursday to return and get their cars at the original port in Galveston, Texas. The company also has announced that it will give passengers a full reimbursement, a future cruise, and an additional $500.

“Every decision we’ve made since Sunday morning is to ensure the safety of our guests and get them home as quickly as possible,’’ Gerry Cahill, CEO of Carnival Cruise Lines, said in a news conference.

“The one good thing I have to say is that the crew has been phenomenal,’’ Baker said. “They have tried to do the best that they possibly can, but the leadership, oh my gosh. A tugboat was supposed to come once that first evening. We sat on the water for two days with nothing and the seas were really high. In fact, that night my friends and I slept with our life vests in our bed. I truly, truly thought the boat was going to tip over, because it slants at a 45-degree angle one day and the next day it’s to the other side.’’

Baker witnessed a woman passing out while on line for food one night and also heard of another man suffering a heart attack.

“Probably the worst I saw was a little girl sitting on the floor with a breathing treatment machine,’’ she said. “Meanwhile, there’s water all around her. It’s just very, very scary. It’s extreme conditions.’’

A triage unit in the port at Mobile has been set up to check passengers who think they might be sick. The ship is expected to be out of service until at least mid-April, and 12 futures cruises on it have been canceled.

The families of the passengers eagerly await their return, with many driving several hours to wait in Mobile. Mary Poret of Lufkin, Texas, drove seven hours with a friend to reunite with their young daughters, who are on the cruise with their fathers.  

“She was scared that she would never get to see me again,’’ Poret told NBC News. “To hear your child say, ‘I’m scared I won’t ever see you again, Mama,’ that was heart-wrenching for me. It will be the happiest moment of my life, probably up until now, except maybe holding her when she was born. I can’t wait to have our eyes locked and have her run to me.’’ 

More:

Nightmare cruise finally nears Alabama port