Costa Concordia: Martha Manuel, of West Virginia, tells about surviving Italian cruise disaster

Martha Manuel doesn't swim, so she knew she was in a life or death situation when the Italian cruise ship she was on struck a rock off the Northwest coast of Italy, thousands of miles away from her family in Charles Town, W. Va.

It was Manuel's first time on a cruise, but what was supposed to be a vacation quickly turned into a nightmare.

"It just seems completely surreal," Manuel said. "It's hard at this point now that I'm back home to even accept the fact that we were there in that situation. It was definitely the scariest moment of my life."

Manuel, 29, is one of the survivors of the Costa Concordia cruise ship crash. She was in the dining room Friday night when the luxury boat ran aground.

"Our only goal was to get off the ship," she said. "I truly though that it was going to be a catastrophic event."

Manuel and her friends were told by the ship's crew to go back to their rooms, but they disobeyed and instead went in search of lifeboats.

Her parents learned of the crash and that she had survived, but it wasn't until 24 hours later that they spoke.

"I'm glad that Martha took her own initiative and did what she did. I think by doing that she was very fortunate to get off that ship," said her mother Anne Manuel.

It wasn't until 48 hours after the accident that the Manuel's heard from the cruise line, even then getting incorrect information that their daughter was in an Italian hotel when she was actually back home in Germany, where she lives now. Errors aside, the Manuel's feel a great sense of gratitude.

"We're just glad to have our daughter home and safe," said her father Dale Manuel.