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"I am glad that she is out there and that she is coming home -- today," said Mary Poret of Texas, whose 12-year-old, Rebekah, is cruising with a 10-year-old friend and the girls' fathers. "We're going to take her home and get her something to eat and let her get some rest, because she's not been sleeping well."
Poret and Kim McKerreghan, whose 10-year-old daughter Allie Taylor is also onboard, said the girls and their dads have told tales of urine-soaked mattresses, sleeping in hallways, extreme heat and cold, and scarce access to hot food. "Those conditions are unacceptable, completely unacceptable," Poret said.
"It doesn't matter to me that they've offered all these things -- a free cruise, refunds, now $500. Really? Does that make up for what they've had to do out here? I mean, how many people will lose their jobs because they couldn't get back to work, including myself, I'll miss three days of work."
Poret teaches business courses to inmates within the Texas Department of Corrections.
Nellie and Lee Betts of Tupelo, Miss., also drove down to Mobile to meet their adult daughter Nicole, who lives in Dallas and was on the cruise with co-workers as part of a team-building exercise.
Nellie Betts said earlier Thursday that she spoke with Nicole at about 5 a.m., and her daughter described "deplorable" conditions.
What is worst? "The smell," Nellie Betts said. "The water was brown, you couldn't flush the toilets. She sounded pretty good but I could tell she was down and out," Nellie Betts said, tearing up.
"I love her -- I just want to hug her," she said. "It's been hard -- the wondering if she has enough food, if she is OK."
On the upside, Poret and McKerreghan said the crew have been wonderful throughout the ordeal. "They have been so nice to me," said McKerreghan, quoting a text message from Allie. "I've made new friends ... and they're saying I'm a superstar."
A generator delivered Wednesday night by the Coast Guard has increased access to hot meals, Carnival spokesman Vance Gulliksen said.
McKerrighan said her daughter got her first hot meal in days last night.
Carnival has booked 1,500 rooms in New Orleans to accommodate travelers who want to rest, wash up and have a good meal before they start their journeys home.
More than 100 law enforcement officers are onsite at the terminal, and a medical triage has been set up inside to take care of passengers' needs. Salvation Army and Red Cross volunteers are delivering refreshments to the terminal and to those waiting outside, and catering trucks have been delivering additional food throughout the day.
People not related to passengers are not permitted near the terminal, which is cordoned off with yellow police tape.
--by Kaija Wilkinson, Cruise Critic Contributor