Rome (CNN) – At least three people were killed and scores remain unaccounted for as a giant cruise ship keeled onto its side after running aground near the Italian island of Giglio on Friday night, local emergency officials said Saturday.
Rescue teams worked through the night to evacuate more than 4,000 people from the Costa Concordia, owned by Genoa-based Costa Cruises, after it ran aground off of Italy’s western coast.
Giuseppe Orsina, a spokesman for the local civil protection agency, told CNN: “We are verifying the different lists of passengers and staff that have been given to us from Costa and at the moment from 43 to 51 people are missing.
“These people could be still on the island of Giglio, in private houses or in hospitals.”
The coast guard said 50 to 70 people could be missing.
Authorities said earlier Saturday they believed everyone was accounted for, but that they did not have a definitive list of names.
The huge ship, which which is now lying on its side in shallow water, was carrying about 3,200 passengers and 1,000 crew members when it ran aground at about dinner time.
Initial reports suggested as many as six people had been killed, but it was unclear why the number dropped. An additional 14 people were injured, Adm. Ilarione Dell’Anna, head of coastal authorities for the port city of Livorno, told CNN.
Passengers described how the lights went out and it then became clear the ship had hit something, prompting scenes of chaos.
Laurie Willits from Ontario, who was watching a magic show with her husband at that moment, told CNN: “We heard a scraping noise to the left of the ship and then my husband said ‘we’re sliding off our seats.’”
The couple ran to their cabin to get coats and life jackets before making their way to a lifeboat. Emergency instructions in English were hard to hear, Willits said.
Panic spread as people scrambled to find lifeboats in the dark as the ship quickly leaned to one side. Access to some lifeboats was hampered by the ship’s tilt into the water, adding to the confusion.
Evacuation efforts started promptly but were made “extremely difficult” by the position of the ship, according to a statement on Costa’s website. Some passengers fell into the chilly waters during the rescue, Italy’s ANSA news agency reported.