- The Costa Concordia with over 4,000 people on board apparently hit a reef, tearing a 70 to 100 meter gash in its hull.
- The ship is now half submerged in 100-meter-deep waters near the island of Giglio.
- Survivors told of scenes 'like the Titanic.'
Survivors of a luxury cruise liner that keeled over off Tuscany, killing three people and leaving 70 unaccounted for, on Saturday told of scenes 'like the Titanic'.
Terrified passengers tried to get into lifeboats and at least one person reportedly jumped into the sea.
The Costa Concordia with over 4,000 people on board apparently hit a reef, tearing a 70 to 100 meter (230 to 330 feet) gash in its hull, just hours after setting off from the Italian port of Civitavecchia near Rome on Friday.
The ship quickly listed, leaving it half submerged in 100-meter-deep waters near the island of Giglio.
"There were scenes of panic like on the Titanic. We ran aground on rocks.... I don't know how this could happen," passenger Mara Parmegiani was quoted by Italian media as saying.
"We were very scared and freezing because it happened while we were at dinner, so everyone was in evening wear. We definitely didn't have time to get anything else. They gave us blankets but there weren't enough," she said.
Another survivor, cruise ship worker Fabio Costa, said people panicked and began pushing in order to get into lifeboats.
"Everything just started to fall and everybody started to panic and run," he was quoted as saying by the BBC.
"We had no idea how serious it was until we got out and we looked through the window and we saw the water coming closer and closer. Everything happened really, really fast," he said.
"Everybody tried to get on the boats but people started to panic so they were pushing each other and the crew was trying to help. A lot of people were falling down the stairs," he added.
A 70-year-old French passenger who did not give his name said he realized immediately that the situation was serious after a first impact at the left rear of the ship around 9:45 pm (2045 GMT), as passengers were sitting down for dinner, and a second collision shortly afterwards.
"It was dark, we were all really frightened but we were lucky to be close to land," Jose Rodriguez, 43, a Honduran barman who had worked for the cruise company for 14 years, told AFP.
Emergency services said about 40 people were wounded, including two seriously, with concussion and spinal injuries.
"There are three certified dead," Giuseppe Linardi, the top public security official in Grosseto near the Tuscany coast, told Italian media.
The ANSA news agency said the dead had been identified as two French passengers and a Peruvian crew member.
Linardi quoted Costa Crociere, the Costa Concordia's owner, as saying that 70 people of the total 4,234 passengers and crew were still missing but that they could be on the island.
The people on board included some 60 nationalities and about 52 were children up to the age of six. Nearly a third of the passengers were Italian, followed by Germans and French. There were also Americans, Russians and Japanese on board.
Indian Mondal Mithun, 26-year-old restaurant manager on the Costa Concordia, who was on his first cruise, said: "We heard the ship hit the rocks but the alert only came after one hour."
"There was only one lifeboat for 150 passengers" in his area, he added.
Reports earlier said one of the victims was a man in his 70s who died of a heart attack caused by the shock to his system when he jumped into the sea.
The ship was left lying on its left flank and divers were deployed in the search for survivors.
Fire service spokesman Luca Cari told AFP: "Inspections have just begun. It's complicated because there is a risk that one of the floors would collapse."
Rescue services hope that the ship, lodged on the rocks, will not slide deeper into the sea which is about 100 meters deep.
Police also warned of the risk of pollution as some 2,380 tonnes of oil remains in the ship's tanks.
Shocked passengers crammed into the island's few hotel rooms and a local church overnight. Hundreds were being transferred by ferry to the Tuscan resort town of Porto Santo Stefano, which is linked to the Italian mainland.
Some 250 passengers will be taken to the southern French port of Marseille on Saturday afternoon, the cruise firm said.
The chairman of Costa Crociere France, Georges Azouze, added that another 462 French passengers would be repatriated "by a special or chartered flight."
Passengers had been initially told the ship had shuddered to a halt for electrical reasons, before being instructed to put on their life-jackets and head for lifeboats.
Francesco Paolillo, a local coast guard official, said: "We think this happened as a result of sailing too close to an obstacle like a reef."
The Costa Crociere company said it was "shocked" by the news and expressed its condolences to the families of the victims.
The company said it was not yet possible to say what caused the problem, but that the evacuation had been fast, although made more difficult as the ship took on more and more water and keeled over.
The ship left the port of Civitavecchia near Rome on Friday at the beginning of the cruise and was headed for the port of Savona in northwest Italy. It was then scheduled to visit the French port of Marseille and Barcelona in Spain.
The cruiseliner boasts 58 suites with balconies, five restaurants, 13 bars, five Jacuzzis and four swimming pools.