FEBRUARY 11, 2012 8:20:00 PMShe got a brief phone call from her son before she started watching the tragedy unfold on the news.
Eventually, Lillian Evans, of Columbus, just turned the TV off.
“The not knowing …” she said Wednesday, “it was upsetting.”
Justin Evans was aboard the Costa Concordia on Jan. 13 when it sank off the isle of Giglio, Italy.
The 2003 graduate of New Hope High School lost his wallet, passport, computer, cellphone, keys, camera and clothing.
The luxury cruise ship with 4,200 passengers and crew aboard ran aground and struck a rock that ripped open the ship’s hull. Seventeen people were killed, and 15 remain missing.
“I’m thankful to be alive,” Justin Evans said from Atlanta, where he works as a dancer, dance teacher and aerialist.
He had boarded the ship Jan. 13, hoping for a few days of relaxation on a Mediterranean cruise after working in Rome with dance photographer Keiko Guest on a photo shoot.
“We had just boarded the ship,” he said. It was 4:30 p.m. local time. He and Guest got separated in Rome and boarded the ship separately. They found each other and enjoyed a few moments to relax before dinner. They shared a table with two Americans.
Justin Evans said they decided to take in the post-dinner entertainment — a magic show. About seven to 10 minutes into the show, they felt a violent jolt.
A news release from Carnival Corp., the ship’s owner, said it ran aground at 10 p.m. local time.
Justin Evans said trash was flying all over the place and he heard a loud crash in the kitchen. He didn’t know what was happening.
“We saw that the boat was tilting,” he said.
A public address announcement told passengers the ship was experiencing “technical difficulties” and directed them to their rooms.
He and Guest returned to their room. He said she had been on a dozen cruises, so he took his cues from her. They remained calm, put on their life vests and waited.
Another public address announcement informed them the ship’s generator was having problems. The lights went off, came on briefly and then went off again. Justin Evans said a third announcement directed passengers to lifeboats.
On deck, he saw lots of families. People were trying to manage children and older folks. “People were just running in panic.”
He and Guest made it to the fourth lifeboat station and realized they were on the wrong side. They were on the high end of the listing ship. He realized any lifeboats launched would hit the side of the vessel.
The pair maneuvered to the other side of the ship and were in the fourth group of lifeboats to leave. The lifeboat free fell for a few feet, he said, before the cables caught to lower it into the water.
As the boat descended, they saw the full hulk of the ship looming over them at a 45-degree angle.
“All we could do was pray,” Justin Evans said.
Back on land
Once they arrived at Giglio, authorities opened a school for the passengers. They had only a concrete floor for a bed, so passengers gathered life vests to make mattresses. Some of the older passengers had been wakened from their sleep to board lifeboats. They had no shoes, so they cut shoes from the foam in the life vests.
From there, they traveled to another small island and then to Savona, where police issued them statements verifying they were passengers on the ship and asking for expedited passports from the U.S. consulate.
“He called me Saturday, but it was Friday there,” said Lillian Evans, who owns Evans Christian Child Care in Columbus. “I didn’t know how bad it was. He said it was bad … He said he was wet, cold, (and) they were trying to find a place for them stay.”
Justin Evans said they traveled on to Milan and found the consulate closed — in observance of Martin Luther King Day. The next day they got passports and boarded a plane for the U.S. with just 30 minutes to spare.
Putting the pieces together
“I’m still calculating everything I’ve lost,” he said.
He’s been in his home only two or three days. Justin Evans said he’s been keeping a full schedule of work and classes to recoup his losses.
The cruise line has offered some compensation, he said, and he’s heard rumors of a class-action lawsuit. He is still evaluating his options.
Meanwhile, he questions why passengers didn’t receive instructions on how to evacuate the ship. Although they had boarded that day, Justin Evans said he talked to passengers who had been on the ship up to two days before the crash. They hadn’t received instructions, either.
He thanks his faith and his martial arts training for keeping him and Guest safe. “I was praying the entire time.”
The thought he would die never entered his mind, he said. He and Guest kept readjusting escape plans. They considered jumping off the ship into the rocks. “We were making plans throughout the whole event.
“It was very, very scary in moments.”
He’s had bad dreams about the experience and is seeing a counselor, “just trying to get back on track with my life.”
One thing he learned about the experience was the way people helped one another. That level of unity should happen every day, he said, not just during a catastrophe.
Taking another cruise is not on his immediate priority list, he said, but he would consider it. He doesn’t want fear to beat him.
And he encouraged his mother and father, Charlie Evans, to take the same position.
“He said, ‘Mom, I know you and dad were planning on going on a cruise. Don’t let this stop you from going,'” Lillian Evans said.