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Ship Passengers Wait for Belongings

July 22, 1998

MIAMI (AP) _ For a few hours, Alton and Dee Herron put aside the bizarre interruption of their honeymoon and finally acted like newlyweds, shopping and walking hand-in-hand on the beach.

Still, their fun was shadowed by anxiety about the belongings they left on board Carnival Cruise Line’s ocean liner Ecstasy, which caught fire Monday and had to turn around just after leaving for a four-day cruise.

``It just puts a big vein right in the middle of your forehead,″ Herron said Tuesday.

Early today, winds gusting up to 50 mph nearly tore the fire-damaged ship from its moorings. Several tugs were helping keep the ocean liner in place at the pier, Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Jeff Ruvolo.

The Herrins, from Kansas City, Mo., shopped for medicine and clothes on Tuesday with the $100 each was given by Carnival. Then they walked on Miami Beach and dipped in a pool at the Fontainebleau Hilton, where displaced cruise passengers spent another night Tuesday at Carnival’s expense.

The Herrons waited with other passengers _ forced off the cruise liner with little more than the clothes on their backs _ for crew members to deliver identification cards and clothes. Mrs. Herron, a diabetic, also awaited her medicine.

Herron doubted he would ever see any of his possessions, since smoke engulfed his cabin. He was hoping for compensation.

``I will happily get on an airplane and leave here if I have a check in my hand,″ Herron said.

Doyle Crocker, from Union, S.C., left his wallet and about $2,000 cash in his cabin.

``I haven’t heard anything or anybody say, `We’ll make it up to you,‴ Crocker said. ``It’s almost like that cruise line is not to blame at all.″

A welder’s spark in a laundry room may have ignited lint in the air-conditioning vents and touched off a fire that quickly spread two decks above to the outside mooring area, where nylon rope fed the flames, Carnival Cruise Lines president Bob Dickinson said.

Robert Francis, National Transportation Safety Board vice chairman, said it was too early to draw any conclusions.

Of the nearly 3,500 people on board, 54 were treated for minor injuries, most for smoke inhalation. One had a heart problem. Twenty were taken to hospitals, and at least four were admitted overnight.

Fire doors isolated the blaze and the air-conditioning system was shut down to cut the fire’s oxygen supply, Dickinson said.

Dickinson commended the 868-member crew’s handling of the smoky fire. The blaze broke out shortly after the 855-foot ship set out on a four-night trip to Key West and Cozumel, Mexico.

But passengers said they had complained of smoke coming through cabin vents long before they were told of the fire. Carnival spokesman Tim Gallagher said the first internal alarm sounded at 5:20 p.m.

Dale Palmer, a banker also from Union, S.C., said she told a steward at 4:40 p.m. that smoke was entering her cabin through the air-conditioning duct, and the steward came to her cabin to see it for himself.

``I’m disturbed when I see the president of Carnival on TV saying the fire started (later) when I know better. I reported it,″ she said.

While the newlywed Herrons waited for their luggage, fellow passengers Kenny Risley, 40, and Janis Baczynski, 39, tied the knot. They had planned to wed on the cruise, but had to settle for a ceremony Tuesday at the Fontainebleau at Carnival’s expense.

They exchanged vows overlooking the hotel’s gardens and pool amid a circle of nine television cameras and five newspaper photographers, with the phone at the nearby bar ringing in the background.

Instead of sailing to Cozumel, the Risleys planned to fly to Las Vegas for their honeymoon. Both said the fire didn’t ruin the moment.

``I’ve been angry, mad and everything else you can think of,″ Risley said. ``(But) we’re going to accomplish the goals we set out to do and we’re eventually going to go back out on a cruise again.″

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