A picture of Kristi Conn is now in the iconic images of the news media's coverage from the cruise ship Triumph. Conn can be seen embraced in a bear hug from her nephew James Enmon of Orange who 'rescued' Conn, his cousin and their party at the dock in Mobile, Alabama, Thursday night. Conn's brother, Victor Enmon helped get a loan of a 14-passenger van from a non-profit group so James could pick up the ladies. They had gone on pre-wedding trip for Shelley Conn, Kristi's daughter. Their luggage didn't go on the van. It rode in a U-Haul trailer. "Everything on wheels we had rolled through the sewage (in the halls) so we couldn't put them on anything," Conn said. The human waste that ended up all over the ship that had about 4,100 people was "the absolute worst thing I guess I've ever been through," she said.
Conn's party had ended up camping out on the third floor deck for about four days. That deck was where passengers disembarked; so her group was among the first 100 off the ship. About 100 buses hired by the Carnival Cruise were lined up for the ship's passengers. James Enmon had the van behind the last bus. The news media couldn't get near the buses and the Conn party was the first group of passengers reporters and photographers could reach. Conn said she was amazed at about 12 microphones stuck at her face.
By that time, she had already gobbled down some hot chicken McNuggets and cold Coke. She said McDonald's had the chicken and Coca-Cola had the drinks for the passengers. "It was the best thing I ever ate and I don't even like chicken McNuggets," she said Saturday.
Shelley is getting married on March 9 and on Sunday Kristi was going to Houston for a bridal luncheon. The mother-of-the-bride said the wedding is going on as planned, but she’s not sure of the honeymoon. The couple will be flying to Greece. The groom’s family has roots to a Greek island they are planning to visit. It is reachable only by ferry. ‘I’m not sure he’s going to be able to get her on a boat,’ Conn said.
Despite the hardships of the trip after a fire disabled an engine early Sunday morning, Conn realizes the situation could have been worst. Their deck was filled with the smoke from the fire and she wonders if breathing the smoke is the reason for the sore throat that sent her to the doctor's office Friday afternoon. In addition, she said the ship 'leaned' for days, though the crew said it was listing. She said the angle was so severe you had to hold on to railings when climbing stairs. Conn is the mother of the bride and considered herself the on-board mother of the other young women in their 20s. ‘I didn’t want to let them see me scared,’ she said. Shelley’s future mother-in-law, Patty Magoulas of Sugar Land, was also on the trip. Others from Orange were Cathy Day, Janelle Dischler, Lisa Pratt, Jenna Boatner and Melissa Perkins. Donald Perkins and his son, Hunter, drove to Mobile to pick up Melissa and had rented the U-Haul to carry the luggage.
The cruise ordeal for Conn began at 5:30 a.m. Sunday. A message on the intercom system saying ‘Alpha 1, Alpha 1, report to the engine room’ woke her up. Shelley and two of Shelley’s friends were in the same room and the call woke one of them up, too. Conn began smelling smoke. They woke up the other two girls and then came another announcement to leave rooms. They scrambled to find their life jackets and left. They were on the first deck, one deck above the engine room. Heavy smoke was at one end of the hall. ‘We ran up the stairs to find the muster area,’ she said. ‘Most people were pretty calm. We were scared to death, but there was no panic.’
An announcement came to go back to the rooms, but the Conn group stayed on a deck because of the smoke in their hall. She said they went to the ninth floor and saw ‘black smoke bellowing out of the back of the boat. It smelled awful.’ The ship kept making announcements that everything was fine and the fire was under control.
By the afternoon, passengers learned the engine wouldn’t work and that most electricity was out. The toilets weren’t working. They were told to urinate in the showers and to do ‘number two’ in red plastic bags, then set the bags out in the hallway for the crew to pick up. The first deck ended up flooded with sewage coming from the other decks.
The Conn group got things to make a ‘camp’ on the third deck. At first, it was blankets and pillows. They later pulled up the mattresses. She said that when they were close to Mexico the heat was ‘blistering’ and they put up sheets for cover from the sun. After the decision to go to Mobile, the temperatures got colder the closer they got to the United States. Wednesday night they moved the mattresses into the dining room. Passengers didn’t pack warm clothes and many were wearing cruise line robes. She bought Shelley a hoodie sweatshirt in the gift shop when it was opened for cash-only purchases with shopping by flashlight.
The last decent meal they got was on Saturday night. After the electricity went out, they were served bread, cheese, fruit and vegetables. Later the menu became mostly sandwiches usually without meat. She remembers cucumber sandwiches. The first day the fruit was fresh. Later it was canned. She said they were given full bottles of water at first, but later were given Dixie cups of water. That’s when she knew water was running low. A couple of other cruise ships came and sent supplies, including water. One of those let them know they were on CNN. They didn’t know they had become national news. Conn heard their story was on kogt.com and she said that encouraged her because she knew all the people in Orange would be praying for them.
The ordeal is over and you might say Conn washed it away. James Enmon had reserved hotel rooms in Mobile for them to clean up before the van drive back to Orange. ‘I took a really, really, really hot bath,’ Conn said.