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'So much chaos': US survivors recount horrifying moments aboard crippled Italy cruise ship

Maria Papa and her daughter, Melissa Goduti, who were both on the ill-fated cruise ship that ran aground off the coast of Italy, talk to TODAY's Ann Curry about the harrowing and chaotic experience.

 A Connecticut mother and daughter aboard the cruise ship that grounded off the coast of Italy described a scene of chaos as passengers fended for themselves to climb aboard lifeboats.

Costa Condordia passengers Maria Papa and her daughter, Melissa Goduti, blame the ship's captain, not the crew, for confusion.

"The crew members were running around like the actual passengers," Maria Papa told Ann Curry live on TODAY Tuesday. "They couldn't answer any questions to anyone; there wasn't anybody speaking English...there was so much chaos."

Survivors told harrowing stories of escape from the capsized ship, which struck a reef off the coast of the Tuscan island of Giglio on Friday with more than 4,200 passengers aboard, including more than 100 Americans. Authorities on Tuesday accused Capt. Francesco Schettino of manslaughter, causing a shipwreck and abandoning his ship before all passengers were evacuated.

Official to fleeing captain: 'You go aboard. It is an order'

The death toll rose to 11 on Tuesday when divers extracted five more bodies, all of them adults wearing life jackets, from the rear of the ship near an emergency evacuation point. Another two dozen people remained unaccounted for. 

During a heated conversation the Italian coast guard told the captain of the Costa Concordia to go back to the ship. NBC's Michelle Kosinski reports.

"I think if the captain took more of a hand on it, then I think the crew would have been better able to understand what was going on," Papa told Curry.

Papa and Goduti managed to flee the ship -- an especially nerve-wracking experience for Papa because she doesn't know how to swim. "We went to get on one boat when they had finally sounded the alarm, and the door would not open on that lifeboat," she told Curry. "Someone grabbed my hand and we went to the next boat."

Read the rest of the story on TODAY.com

'Lurching feeling'
Others told similar stories of confusion and panic as they returned home over the weekend to reunite with family and friends.

 “It is surreal,” Alex Beach, 65, told the Albuquerque Journal. “I’m sitting here looking back on it, and I can’t believe it.”

Alex and her husband Arthur had just eaten dinner and were back in their cabin, reading and watching TV, when they heard a loud screeching sound and a "lurching feeling," recalled Arthur Beach.

"We've hit something," he told his wife, as items began flying around their 10th-deck cabin and the lights went out.

The couple opened their door, to let light in from the hallway. Meanwhile, an announcement came over the ship's loudspeakers in five languages, telling the passngers that there was a minor electrical problem and not to worry.

Andreas Solaro / AFP - Getty Images

The Costa Concordia ran aground Jan. 13 off the coast of Italy, resulting in the evacuation of thousands of passengers as the ship began heavily listing.

Except, as the Beaches recalled to the Albuquerque Journal, passengers were already beginning to panic. “People were screaming and crying, some of them with their life vests on, saying, ‘We’re leaving, we’re leaving,’” Alex Beach told the Journal.

Read the full story on the Alburqerque Journal

'Windows underwater'
Another passenger, Blake Miller of Austin, talked Monday with NBC's Lester Holt.  "I honestly did not have a true understanding of, of, how bad it was until we were on the life boat and looked back and saw the first row of windows under water and people screaming that couldn't get on a life boat, still on the boat. And that's when we realized how much it was really tilting."

Steve Garcia, also of Austin, credited other passengers for assisting with the evacuation amid the confusion, according to a story by nbcdfw.com.

"The only thing that worked for us was the passengers," he said. It's amazing that none of us spoke the same language, but we knew how to take care of each other, but the crew couldn't figure that out."

Read the full story on nbcdfw.com

Honeymoon cruise trouble
Newlyweds Robert and Megan Mauri of Philadelphia had gone on the cruise to celebrate their honeymoon. They recalled how the ship's tilt made many of the life rafts useless. As helicopters rescued some people, others jumped overboard and swam.

"We knew we were in trouble when we were on the second deck and the toilet water was starting to ... the ship was titling so bad that the toilet water was flowing out, into the hallway" Robert Mauri told nbcphiladelphia.com.

"The crew didn't seem like they knew what they were doing," he said.

Read the full story on nbcphiladelphia.com

Lack of leadership
Georgia Ananias, one of four people from her family aboard the cruise ship, told TODAY that passengers were left to fend for themselves.

"There was no direction. There were no officers available," said Ananias, who is from Los Angeles. "Everybody was one man for themselves. People did not know how to do anything."

Her husband, Dean Ananias, described the moments after the ship turned on its side.

"We were actually walking on the outside walls on top of the ship," he told TODAY. "We walked along where the windows were and eventually, with help from some others, we had to crawl along."

They used ropes dangling outside the ship to lower themselves to safety, Dean Ananias said. The family said about five hours passed from the time they sensed something was wrong to the time they reached safety.

"Five hours of struggling while this ship is sinking, trying to go against gravity trying to pull ourselves up," said Georgia Ananias. "Trying to get away from breaking glass, bodies flying."

Read more of Ananias' story on nbclosangeles.com 

Like the 'Titanic'
The experience aboard the sinking Costa Concordia was so terrifyling that Arlene Sanchez said her mother, Connie Barron, never plans to travel again.

 "She told me it was indescribable, and she is never going to travel again in her life," she told nbcmiami.com. "She will never take a cruise. It was terrible. It was like the Titanic.”

Read the rest of the story on nbcmiami.com

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