A woman from Wallingford, Conn. and her mother were among the thousands of passengers who were forced to evacuate the luxury cruise ship Costa Concordia after the boat ran aground.
"You could definitely hear the boat hit something. It was like the boat leaned over at a 70-degree angle," Melissa Goduti, 28, told NBC Connecticut by phone from Italy. "Everything was pretty much falling, dishes were falling, trash cans were falling, everything was falling."
An evacuation drill was scheduled for the Costa Concordia on Saturday afternoon, even though some passengers had already been on board for several days.
"It was so unorganized, our evacuation drill was scheduled for 5 p.m.," said Goduti, who had set out on the cruise of the Mediterranean hours earlier. "We had joked 'What if something had happened today?"'
Passengers described a scene reminiscent of "Titanic," and said they escaped the ship by crawling along upended hallways, desperately trying to reach safety as the lights went out and plates and glasses crashed.
Helicopters whisked some survivors to safety, others were rescued by private boats in the area, and witnesses said some people jumped from the ship into the dark, cold sea.
"We were running around and we kept asking the crew members, 'What floor are the life boats on?' and they just kept saying, 'You don't need them, you're fine, everything's fine, we just hit a big wave,'" Goduti said.
Her mother, Maria Goduti, said she thought they were going to die.
Then, getting off the ship was a separate ordeal, according to Melissa Goduti.
"The boat was so high up the life boats kept snapping and they couldn't use them. People started jumping off the boat on the other side, people were stuck on the boat on the other side," she said.
The mother and daughter flew into New York on Sunday night.
Costa Cruises said about 1,000 Italian passengers were onboard, as well as more than 500 Germans, about 160 French and about 1,000 crew members.
About 30 people were reported injured, most of them suffering only bruises, but at least two people were reported to be in grave condition. Several passengers came off the ferries on stretchers, but it appeared more out of exhaustion and shock than serious injury.
At least six people were killed when the Costa Concordia ran aground off the tiny island of Giglio near the coast of Tuscany late Friday, tearing a 160-foot (50-meter) gash in its hull and sending in a rush of water.