-Costa Concordia developed electrical fault two hours after leaving port
-4,200 passengers and crew, including several British holidaymakers, safely evacuated
-Terrified passengers: 'We were having dinner when all of a sudden, the lights went out'
-One victim, 65, died from heart attack after system shock of cold water
-Three bodies recovered from water so far, Italian official says
By NICK PISA and BETH STEBNER
Gashed open: The hull of the massive Costa Concordia was gashed open as it ran aground, killing at least eight and injuring dozens more
At least eight people were killed and more than 4,000 passengers and crew were rescued last night after a packed cruise liner began sinking off the Italian coast after running aground. Several British holidaymakers were on the Costa Concordia which had left port at 7pm for a seven-day Mediterranean Cruise - but within two hours of leaving port, it ground to a halt in the sea with a major electrical fault.
Coastguards were immediately dispatched to the scene near the island of Giglio, off the Tuscan coast. Terrified passengers were ordered to put on life vests and man life boats as the 850ft-long luxury floating palace, which costs up to £1,200 a night, began to list heavily to one side.
Search and rescue: More than 4,000 passengers and crew were on board when the vessel began sinking off the Italian coast
The identities of the dead have not yet been released. A report released by the Messaggero newspaper said at least 30 people sustained injuries, with several of them serious.
Among the dead was a man around age 65, who officials believe may not have been able to withstand the cold of the sea at night.
It is thought that the death toll may still rise.
Terrified: Passengers are seen in a rescue boat of the stranded cruise ship Costa Concordia near the island of Giglio wearing orange life vests
Listing: The cruise ship Costa Concordia is seen leaning at an angle after running aground
The Italian coast guard said they have retrieved at least three bodies from the sea. Commander Francesco Paolilo told the Associated Press that helicopters are evacuating some 50 people still aboard the liner.
A coast guard official said the vessel 'hit an obstacle' - though it wasn't clear if that obstacle might have been a rocky reef in the waters off Giglio - 'ripping a gash 50 meters across' on the left side of the ship, and started taking on water.
The cruise liner's captain, Mr Paolillo said, then tried to steer his ship toward shallow waters, near Giglio's small port, to make evacuation by lifeboat easier.
But after the ship started listing badly onto its right side, lifeboat evacuation was no longer feasible, he said.
Coastguard officials confirmed that 3,200 passengers were onboard at the time along with 1,000 crew members and all had been evacuated by lifeboat and taken to the island of Giglio
They confirmed that 3,200 passengers were on board at the time along with 1,000 crew members and all had been evacuated by lifeboat and taken to the island of Giglio where emergency accommodation had been prepared for them.
They added that 'the position of the ship which is worsening is making more difficult the last part of the evacuation'.
By 1.20am local time, this had been virtually completed and officials said that the liner was listing at an angle of 20 degrees but it was not in danger of sinking.
Besides lifeboats, five other ships that were in the area were used in the operation to ensure that all passengers and crew were safely evacuated.
Operation: Rescue boats of the stranded cruise ship Costa Concordia arrive in the harbour
The ship's website describes the Costa Concordia as a 'real floating temple of fun that will amaze you,' and it has four swimming pools, five restaurants and 13 bars
Another deadly Costa crash: In 2010, a Costa Europa cruise liner with the dock in Sharm el-Sheik resort, Egypt. Three crew members died