Ferry passengers recount chaos: No fire alarm, just smoke – U-T San Diego

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In this photo taken from a nearby ship, smoke rises from the Italian-flagged Norman Atlantic after it caught fire in the Adriatic Sea, Sunday, Dec. 28, 2014. The ferry carrying hundreds of passengers caught fire off the Greek island of Corfu early Sunday, trapping passengers on the top decks as gale-force winds and choppy seas hampered the evacuation. (AP Photo/SKAI TV Station) GREECE OUT, MANDATORY CREDITThe Associated Press

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In this photo taken from a nearby ship, smoke rises from the Italian-flagged Norman Atlantic after it caught fire in the Adriatic Sea, Sunday, Dec. 28, 2014. The ferry carrying hundreds of passengers caught fire off the Greek island of Corfu early Sunday, trapping passengers on the top decks as gale-force winds and choppy seas hampered the evacuation. (AP Photo/SKAI TV Station) GREECE OUT, MANDATORY CREDIT

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In this image released by the Italian Navy, passengers and crew are seen on the deck of the Italian-flagged ferry Norman Atlantic as it is approached by a rescue helicopter after it caught fire in the Adriatic Sea, Sunday, Dec. 28, 2014. Italian and Greek rescue crews battled gale-force winds and massive waves as they struggled Sunday to evacuate hundreds of people from a ferry on fire and adrift in the channel between Italy and Albania. At least one person died and two were injured. The fire broke out before dawn Sunday on a car deck of the Italian-flagged Norman Atlantic, traveling from the western Greek port of Patras to the Italian port of Ancona on the Adriatic, with 422 passengers and 56 crew members on board. (AP Photo/Italian Navy)The Associated Press

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In this image released by the Italian Navy, passengers and crew are seen on the deck of the Italian-flagged ferry Norman Atlantic as it is approached by a rescue helicopter after it caught fire in the Adriatic Sea, Sunday, Dec. 28, 2014. Italian and Greek rescue crews battled gale-force winds and massive waves as they struggled Sunday to evacuate hundreds of people from a ferry on fire and adrift in the channel between Italy and Albania. At least one person died and two were injured. The fire broke out before dawn Sunday on a car deck of the Italian-flagged Norman Atlantic, traveling from the western Greek port of Patras to the Italian port of Ancona on the Adriatic, with 422 passengers and 56 crew members on board. (AP Photo/Italian Navy)

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In this image taken from a video released by the Italian Coast Guard, smoke billows from the Italian-flagged Norman Atlantic that caught fire in the Adriatic Sea, Sunday, Dec. 28, 2014. Italian and Greek rescue crews battled gale-force winds and massive waves as they struggled Sunday to evacuate hundreds of people from a ferry on fire and adrift in the channel between Italy and Albania. At least one person died and two were injured. The fire broke out before dawn Sunday on a car deck of the Italian-flagged Norman Atlantic, traveling from the western Greek port of Patras to the Italian port of Ancona on the Adriatic, with 422 passengers and 56 crew members on board. (AP Photo/Italian Coast Guard)The Associated Press

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In this image taken from a video released by the Italian Coast Guard, smoke billows from the Italian-flagged Norman Atlantic that caught fire in the Adriatic Sea, Sunday, Dec. 28, 2014. Italian and Greek rescue crews battled gale-force winds and massive waves as they struggled Sunday to evacuate hundreds of people from a ferry on fire and adrift in the channel between Italy and Albania. At least one person died and two were injured. The fire broke out before dawn Sunday on a car deck of the Italian-flagged Norman Atlantic, traveling from the western Greek port of Patras to the Italian port of Ancona on the Adriatic, with 422 passengers and 56 crew members on board. (AP Photo/Italian Coast Guard)

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A journalist interviews a passenger of the Italian-flagged Norman Atlantic, that caught fire in the Adriatic Sea, in the harbor of Bari, southern Italy, Monday, Dec. 29, 2014. A ferry carrying nearly 500 people caught fire off the Greek island of Corfu early Sunday, trapping passengers on the top decks as gale-force winds and choppy seas hampered the evacuation. Greek and Italian rescue helicopters and vessels struggled to reach the stricken ferry, with nearby merchant ships lining up to form a wall against the raging gusts. (AP Photo/Luigi Mistrulli)The Associated Press

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A journalist interviews a passenger of the Italian-flagged Norman Atlantic, that caught fire in the Adriatic Sea, in the harbor of Bari, southern Italy, Monday, Dec. 29, 2014. A ferry carrying nearly 500 people caught fire off the Greek island of Corfu early Sunday, trapping passengers on the top decks as gale-force winds and choppy seas hampered the evacuation. Greek and Italian rescue helicopters and vessels struggled to reach the stricken ferry, with nearby merchant ships lining up to form a wall against the raging gusts. (AP Photo/Luigi Mistrulli)

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Rescuers assist a passenger of the Italian-flagged Norman Atlantic, that caught fire in the Adriatic Sea, in Bari harbor, southern Italy, Monday, Dec. 29, 2014. A ferry carrying nearly 500 people caught fire off the Greek island of Corfu early Sunday, trapping passengers on the top decks as gale-force winds and choppy seas hampered the evacuation. Greek and Italian rescue helicopters and vessels struggled to reach the stricken ferry, with nearby merchant ships lining up to form a wall against the raging gusts. (AP Photo/Luigi Mistrulli)The Associated Press

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Rescuers assist a passenger of the Italian-flagged Norman Atlantic, that caught fire in the Adriatic Sea, in Bari harbor, southern Italy, Monday, Dec. 29, 2014. A ferry carrying nearly 500 people caught fire off the Greek island of Corfu early Sunday, trapping passengers on the top decks as gale-force winds and choppy seas hampered the evacuation. Greek and Italian rescue helicopters and vessels struggled to reach the stricken ferry, with nearby merchant ships lining up to form a wall against the raging gusts. (AP Photo/Luigi Mistrulli)

BARI, Italy (AP) — There were no fire alarms at first, no knocks on the door from the crew, just thick, acrid smoke filling cabins and waking passengers on the overnight ferry from Greece to Italy.

In the chaos that followed, passengers said, they received virtually no instructions from the crew. The principle of women and children first went out the window, and passengers started pushing and shoving and came to blows over seats in the lifeboats and helicopter baskets.

“Everyone there was trampling on each other to get onto the helicopter,” Greek truck driver Christos Perlis told The Associated Press by telephone from one of the rescue vessels summoned after the Italian-flagged ferry caught fire in the Adriatic Sea off Albania early Sunday.

“The jungle law prevailed,” said another Greek passenger, Irene Varsioti. “There was no queue or order. No respect was shown for children.”

Italian and Greek helicopter rescue crews Monday evacuated the last of the known survivors aboard the crippled, fire-blackened vessel, bringing the number rescued to 427.

But the death toll climbed to at least 10, and rescuers searched below deck and scoured the surrounding waters for more possible victims amid serious discrepancies in the ship’s manifest and confusion over how many people were aboard.

The vessel’s operator, Anek Lines, said 475 were on the ferry. But Italian officials said the names on the manifest may have represented just reservations, not actual passengers who boarded. Also, Italian navy Adm. Giovanni Pettorino said 80 of those rescued weren’t on the list at all, giving credence to suggestions from the Italian premier that the ferry may have been carrying a number of immigrants illegally trying to reach Italy.

“We cannot say how many people may be missing,” Transport Minister Maurizio Lupi said at an evening news conference.

The blaze broke out on the car deck of the Norman Atlantic while the ferry was traveling from the Greek port of Patras to Ancona in Italy. The cause of the fire was under investigation. Salvage crews went aboard to assess the damage.

Greek truck driver Afrosini Bezati said she feared several of her colleagues had perished because they chose to sleep in their rigs where the fire broke out rather than take cabins upstairs.

“I considered doing the same thing, to leave my room after having a shower and going down to sleep in the truck,” she said as she arrived at Elefsina Air Force base near Athens aboard a military plane. “They were stuck and could not get out.”

The Italian military congratulated itself for a remarkable around-the-clock rescue operation in horrendous weather: 40 knot (75 kph; 46 mph) winds, high seas, choking smoke and the dark of the Adriatic night. Hundreds of passengers, crew members and two dogs were plucked from the decks in helicopter baskets as the fire raged below.

As they waited to be rescued, they were drenched by cold winter rain and firefighting hoses, while their feet burned from the flames below.

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