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Harvey strands HPD officer on cruise

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Hobbs police officer Jimmy Grimes will miss work today, but not because he wants to. Hurricane Harvey stranded him on a cruise ship in the Gulf of Mexico waiting for the Port of Galveston to re-open.

Among some 20,000 passengers on four cruise ships in the Gulf of Mexico when the hurricane hit, Grimes said his ship, the Carnival Breeze, held about 4,500 passengers until making a previously unscheduled stop at New Orleans.

Grimes spoke by cell phone with the Hobbs News-Sun as the Breeze pulled away from New Orleans headed back down the Mississippi River with an estimated 2,200 passengers still on board.

Hobbs Police Chief Chris McCall said Grimes’ safety initially was a concern. “We’re just happy that he’s safe. We knew he was out there at the time the hurricane was rolling through the Gulf and we had no contact with him at that point,” he said. “So, we were real happy to hear from him (Monday) when he made port in New Orleans.”

A California native, the 30-year-old officer said he was taking his first cruise with his girlfriend Stevie Pietz. The ship was originally scheduled to port at Galveston on Sunday, but the hurricane had closed that port.

“Once they shut down the port, we had an idea we were going to stay in Cozumel for one extra day,” Grimes said. “That was on, I believe, the 25th. In Cozumel, we were watching the news on CNN and they started talking about how the major roads were being shut down and the loops are getting filled up in Houston.” Along with news reports, the ship’s captain provided updates to the passengers.

“He said I-45, the only connection from Galveston to the mainland, was flooded,” Grimes said. “At that point, we were getting pretty nervous thinking that our cars were going to get swept away, that we were not going to get to go home, or at least come back to nothing and have to figure out how to get home.”

However, a contact with the Galveston Police Department assured them their cars in the port parking lot were okay, with no serious flooding there. I-45 north to Houston, on the other hand, was flooded beyond hope of passage.

Meanwhile, among the passengers, Grimes said stories were being told as events unfurled.

“Some people’s family live in Dickenson, Texas, and they’re really just trying to keep it together and not cry. It’s so sad,” he said. “This guy’s talking about how their parents, maybe in their 60s or 70s, are fastening canoes together so, once the water fills up their home, so they can ax through their roof, access the canoes and paddle to safety.”

In another case, he said a woman talked about how she had already gotten reports that her whole house was completely flooded. “We’re sitting here not really knowing what to do. We have no way to get out of here right now. Our vehicle is in Galveston trapped in the parking lot at the port,” Grimes said. “We can’t afford to purchase plane tickets. The most expensive ticket I saw was $1,800 a person through United and the cheapest I saw was $600 through Southwest.”

Unable to port at Galveston, the captain decided to go New Orleans both for supplies and to allow some time to pass. He told passengers they could either leave the ship at New Orleans or stay with the ship until the Galveston port re-opened.

“Sure enough, the big cruise liner cruises on up the Mississippi Delta into New Orleans, so we sat in New Orleans for the day,” Grimes said. That’s when about half of the passengers disembarked to find their way home by land.

The Breeze left New Orleans on Tuesday, initially expecting to sit outside the Port of Galveston until it opened, but Grimes sent a text message to the News-Sun later in the day correcting that plan.

“The plan is to stay in the Mississippi until further notice due to the increased rain at Galveston,” he said.

The Hobbs police officer praised both the ship’s crew and the cruise line.

“I would definitely say the Breeze has been accommodating. Carnival Cruise Lines has been nothing short of amazing,” he said. “They’ve really just offered to protect us and house us until the storm is over because they know the people are stranded.”

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