Local woman returns home after being stranded on cruise ship
CHATTANOOGA, TN (WRCB) - A local piano teacher was one of the first few people off the Carnival Triumph when it docked in Alabama Thursday night.
Friday she finally made it home to Chattanooga, where she was reunited with her husband.
After five days stranded at sea, Tammy Benson was reunited with her husband of nearly 50 years, Paul Benson.
"I was the third person off and they pushed me off in a wheelchair," Tammy told Channel 3, holding her bags at the Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport.
She was traveling with her daughter and granddaughter from Texas.
She says when it came time to get off the ship she felt faint and malnourished. She allowed crew members to help her off the boat using a wheelchair. Her family members followed.
"It's going to take me a while to process it," she said, with tears in her eyes.
"I grew up on Corpus Christie, Texas," she said. "I've been through hurricanes and little bit of knowing what it's like to not have water."
"I don't think I ever want to see another sandwich," she added, cracking a smile.
Benson says she ate onion and zucchini sandwiches for days, which were rationed when other passengers on board started hoarding food.
The lower decks reeked of sewage as toilets backed up, but she says passengers worked together to survive the conditions.
"We were blessed because we could sleep in our rooms and the people below deck could not," she said, "the stench was just unbearable."
"We left the door to our room open so that the air came through the balcony and across, because the family across from us had no windows."
Benson says crew members worked hard to make passengers comfortable.
Several passengers have reported groups gathering to pray, study the bible and keep one another uplifted.
Benson says she was a part of an impromptu sing-along. She played the piano.
"For about 45 minutes I played the piano," she said, "we sang hymns and choruses, which was very comforting."
But not as comforting as the hug she received from her husband when she returned to Chattanooga.
The couple has a belated Valentine's Day celebration ahead.
"We're going to dinner and going to the symphony tonight," said Paul Benson.
As for the future, Benson says she isn't ruling out another cruise.
"I don't want to go through it again, but will I travel again? Yes."
"Will I take a cruise again? Yes.
Carnival promised to give refunds, offer passengers another trip and cover their transportation costs home.
Travelers were also to receive $500 in compensation.