NEW YORK, April 17 -- Passengers on an ill-fated cruise ship slammed by a 70-foot wave awoke with water rushing into their cabins, furniture crashing and glass shattering. They said the luxury liner's pianist rode out the storm by playing the theme to "Titanic."
"The sea was scary," said Ellen Tesauro, 47, of Wayne, N.J. "I thought, 'When this ship goes down, how can I save myself so I can go back to my kids?' " As the battered Norwegian Dawn began to steam home to New York in calmer waters Sunday, the Coast Guard began investigating whether the ship's captain sent a distress call during the rollicking storm.
At least four passengers were injured and 62 cabins were flooded when the huge wave crashed aboard.
The first sign of danger for the 1,000-foot-long ship came soon after its departure from New York last Sunday when shaken travelers saw the powerful storm coming on CNN -- and realized they would be helpless in its path.
But the sand and sun in Port Canaveral near Orlando, Miami and a small Caribbean island over the next three days calmed the fears of the 2,200 passengers -- until the seas turned rough and the sky threatened Friday as the ship steamed to New York.
"We had no idea we'd have almost 48 hours of 40-foot swells," said Kathleen Riccardi, 31, of Brooklyn. "I called my mother from the boat and told her I loved her because I wasn't sure I'd ever see her again."
The storm hit Friday night, as tiles exploded out of the ceiling and vases and glasses shattered, sending terrified passengers scurrying for cover as the liner rocked from side to side.
"We felt the whole front of the ship come up and it must have left the water because it slammed and hit the water," said Bill Tesauro, 56, Ellen's husband.
As the crew announced that drinks would be free until the Dawn cleared the storm, seasick passengers lurched through the halls vainly trying to find stable ground.
Some travelers -- who had paid $800 to $26,000 for the week-long cruise -- sought refuge in the casino only to be met with an overturned blackjack table, flying poker chips and soaked playing cards.
Dawn Lepore, 47, spent a sleepless night in her cabin listening to the wind howl; at 6 a.m., she felt the roar of the rogue 70-foot wave that smashed windows as high as the ship's 10th floor.
"The glass was flying all over, what wasn't nailed down was on the ground," said Lepore, of Carteret, N.J. Her aunt Diane Nowicki, 69, of Somerville, N.C., awoke to see her slippers floating by in shin-high water.
The wounded ship abandoned its journey to New York -- it had been scheduled to arrive Sunday -- and instead retired to the port of Charleston, S.C.
According to the Norwegian Cruise Lines, Niklas Peterstam, the longtime captain of the ship, had signaled to the Coast Guard that the ship had come under duress. But the Coast Guard said it has no record of a distress call.
After undergoing repairs and a Coast Guard inspection, the ship left Charleston on Sunday and was due to arrive in New York on Monday.