CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. — Charles Town native Martha Manuel was with four friends Friday night as they made their way in the dark from the third level to the lifeboats to escape the stricken Italian cruise liner Costa Concordia off Tuscany, her father said Monday.
On Tuesday, Italian media said five more bodies have been found aboard the ship, raising the official death toll to 11. Before the latest find, 29 people, including two Americans, from the cruise ship were still missing.
Manuel, 29, is the daughter of Dale and Anne Manuel. Dale Manuel is a Jefferson County commissioner.
“We knew she was on a cruise, but we didn’t know she was on that ship until she called us to say she was safe,” Dale Manuel said. “It was a horrendous situation. It was almost like the Titanic.”
Manuel said his daughter, an architect, works as a civilian for the Army Corps of Engineers in Germany. A graduate of the University of Kentucky, she arranged to join former college roommates and their dates on the cruise.
Attempts to reach Martha in Germany were unsuccessful Monday night.
She and her friends were having dinner in a third-level restaurant at 10 p.m. shortly after the ship set sail, her father said.
“They felt a bump, then their table tilted. Martha headed for her room on the seventh floor to get her life jacket. She’s not a strong swimmer,” Manuel said.
When she left her room, a rush of water swept her down the hall, according to her father.
“She didn’t know if it was water from the kitchen or seawater,” Manuel said.
Martha and her friends stayed together until they got into a lifeboat that took them and other passengers to a small nearby island, her father said.
More than 3,000 passengers were taken to the island, where they had to wait nine hours before they were moved to the mainland. Martha and her friends went to the American embassy for help. An official there wanted $200 before helping them, Manuel said.
Manuel asked U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., to help his daughter and her friends. He got the embassy officials to waive the fee and provide passports, Manuel said.
Martha Manuel returned to Germany and her friends went back home, her father said.
Manuel said he last talked to his daughter Monday.
The ship’s captain is in jail pending an investigation. He is accused of steering the ship too close to the tiny island of Giglio as a favor to the chief waiter, whose parents live on the island. The ship capsized after striking a reef.