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As the ship listed to one side, the couple hurried to their cabin to get coats and life jackets before making their way to a lifeboat.
Other passengers said some crew had jumped from the tilting deck into the water as the hours long nighttime rescue wore on. Piles of wet clothing could later be seen discarded on the island.
"I exhausted, I haven had any sleep, I hungry," Willits said, but added that she was relieved to have been able to call her family thanks to the kindness of a young local man who had lent her his phone.
Lifeboats on the side rising higher out of the water got stuck, Willits said, leaving some people suspended in mid air for a long time. The sounds of children crying and screaming could be heard.
Panic spread as people scrambled to find lifeboats in the dark as the ship quickly leaned to one side.
The timing of the accident, coming three months to the day before the 100th anniversary of the Titanic fateful collision with an iceberg, was noted on Twitter.
"And then we heard a scraping noise to the left of the ship and my husband said sliding off our seats. something wrong. And the magician disappeared, that was the funny part."
ROME (CNN) The 3,200 passengers on board the Costa Concordia cruise liner were expecting a night of entertainment and relaxation off Italy Mediterranean coast.
By the CNN Wire Staff
the crisis and asked why they had not yet received an obligatory safety briefing when disaster struck, only hours into their journey.
other languages were hard to hear, Willits said. "We had very sketchy information," she said. "We couldn really hear because of the chaos and talking."
An investigation into the cause of the disaster is under way, officials said.
Many passengers have also complained about how the cruise ship staff handled Omega Speedmaster Racing Co-axial Chronograph 40 Mm
Sirens could be heard as some of the injured were taken to hospital. Helicopters were used to rescue some people from the badly listing ship. but that calm sea conditions had prevented greater loss of life. Three people have been confirmed dead and 14 injured as Saturday afternoon.
"We knew we had to get out of there. We knew it was something serious. We grabbed our coats, that was it Omega Seamaster Chronometer
The Willitses watched from a pier on the island as the ship slowly keeled over until it was at an almost 90 degree angle in the water.
Divers are now searching the areas of the vessel that remain underwater, amid reports that 50 or more people may be missing although the discrepancy could be down to incomplete passenger lists.
Many people spent the night in small churches and other buildings around the island, before being taken by ferry to the mainland to make their way home.
Willits and her husband managed to get into a lifeboat about an hour to 90 minutes after the alarm was raised, and were among the first to be taken to dry land.
CNN Livia Borghese in Rome and Laura Smith Spark in London, and journalist Barbie Nadeau in Porto Santo Stefano contributed to this report.
Designed to appeal to young couples and families, according to cruise critics, the ship housed five restaurants and 13 bars, as well as a huge spa area with a gym, sauna, Turkish bath and solarium.
At reception centers set up on shore, some passengers could be seen Saturday still wearing the pyjamas, slippers or house coats they had on when the alarm was first raised. Most were without their money, phones and valuables.
none of Omega Watch Vintage our valuables, none of our important papers."
Emergency announcements in English and Omega Seamaster Women's Watch
While the Mediterranean in winter can be chilly, icebergs can be ruled out in this case. But many will want to know what the giant luxury liner was doing so close to shore.
The cruise company, Costa, said it would do everything it could to help them on their onward journey.
Confusion aboard sinking cruise ship
But what should have been the cruise of a lifetime around the Mediterranean, starting in Civitavecchia, a port 50 miles from Rome, and taking in Savona, Marseille, Barcelona, Palma de Mallorca, Cagliari and Palermo, turned into a harrowing night few will forget quickly.
Laurie Willits from Ontario, who was watching a magic show with her husband at that moment, told CNN: "All of a sudden the lights flashed and the boat tipped like it was turning, but it didn return to level.
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