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Braintree siblings escape Italian cruise disaster

Brandon Warrick

Braintree siblings Adrian, at left and wearing a white hat, and Amanda Warrick stood with their life jackets on the Concordia late Friday night and were able to keep their spirits up.

Two bites into their goat cheese-stuffed zucchini rolls, Brandon Warrick, 22, and his two siblings, Amanda and Adrian, felt the luxury cruise ship sway.

A few glasses fell from tabletops, but the siblings from Braintree thought it was just the boat’s natural movement.

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Then, moments later, came another lurch. Dishware crashed to the floor. The dining room went dark, and emergency lights flashed on.

It was, he said, a scene from “Titanic.’’

“It was exactly like the movie,’’ said Warrick, a senior at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. “The only thing that I didn’t witness was people actually falling down from the ship. But that’s literally the only thing I didn’t see. The stuff crashing, the flickering lights - it was all there.’’

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The three siblings were among the roughly 4,200 people aboard the Costa Concordia, a cruise ship that ran aground and nearly capsized off the Tuscan coast Friday night.

Three people have been confirmed dead in the accident, and as of last evening, dozens were still not accounted for.

‘I didn’t panic until the very last second, until I saw the water coming in.’

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Officials at the American embassy in Italy estimated that 126 of the passengers were American, and none of them had serious injuries.

For Warrick and his siblings, the cruise was part of a two-week European family vacation. Amanda, 18, a freshman at Suffolk University, was studying abroad for a year in Madrid. Her family decided to pay her a post-holiday visit, and the siblings chose to take a cruise trip while their parents toured Barcelona.

The night of the accident was their fourth. They departed from Palermo and were supposed to arrive in Savona the next day.

English-speaking crew members on the ship insisted that the problem was electrical and would be solved shortly, Warrick said. But the three did not believe it. “The captain would speak in the most urgent Italian ever, and then we started hearing this crazy stuff, this weird alarm,’’ said Warrick. “And I was like, ‘Oh my God - there is no way this stuff is electrical.’ ’’

Passengers assembled in the ship’s lobby. Once announcements were made on the public address system in Italian, passengers began shouting and screeching - so loud that the Warricks, who speak almost no Italian, could not hear the English announcements.

Crowds became frantic, Warrick said, as people pushed one another out of the way to reach lifeboats. He saw someone jump onto a lifeboat that was full.

Because Warrick and his siblings had no small children or elderly people in their group, they were among the last to be taken off the ship.

They agreed that they would stick together - no matter what.

For about 90 minutes, they waited for lifeboats to return from ferrying others to shore.

At points, the siblings held onto railing to keep their balance on the tilting floor. Mostly, they waited in silence - but every half-hour, like clockwork, the boat would list again, tilting another 5 degrees and causing a flurry of gasps and screams.

“I was trying to be logical,’’ Warrick said. “The fact that we could see land, and there were so many lifeboats and police surrounding us - I knew there was a good chance I wasn’t going to die.’’

Finally, shortly after midnight, the crew members announced that another lifeboat had arrived to carry them to safety. They sprinted through the ship to reach the boat - then, turning a corner, they saw seawater gushing into the hallway. From there, they had to wade through water up to their knees.

“I didn’t panic until the very last second, until I saw the water coming in,’’ Warrick said. “At that point, I was worried that I would have to swim to a lifeboat.’’

The Warricks lost their passports, because the ship requires that all non-European citizens surrender their passports until they depart from the ship.

But there was one bright spot in the day, he said. Townspeople who had seen the boat accidents from their homes had driven to the dock and passed out supplies to stranded vacationers.

Warrick, who was wearing only a T-shirt and shorts, felt a tap on his back. A woman who spoke no English handed him a thick blanket. At first, he thought it was a supply from the cruise ship company.

“But then I looked around, and none of them looked like mine, so I knew it was something she was just giving me,’’ Warrick said. “I wanted to thank her so much more.’’

Martine Powers can be reached at mpowers@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @martinepowers.
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