Norwegian public broadcaster NRK said the Viking Sky's evacuation was a slow and dangerous process, as passengers needed to be hoisted one-by-one from the cruise ship to the five available helicopters.
"I was afraid. I've never experienced anything so scary," Janet Jacob, among the first group of passengers evacuated to the nearby town of Molde, told NRK.
She said her helicopter ride to safety came amid strong winds "like a tornado," prompting her to pray "for the safety of all aboard."
American passenger John Curry told NRK that he was having lunch as the cruise ship started to shake.
"It was just chaos. The helicopter ride from the ship to shore I would rather not think about. It wasn't nice," Curry told the broadcaster.
NRK said one 90-year-old-man and his 70-year-old spouse on the ship were severely injured but did not say how that happened.
Norwegian media said the majority of the cruise ship passengers were British and American tourists. By 6 p.m., some 100 people had been rescued and were being taken to a nearby sports hall.
Later, reports emerged that a cargo ship with nine crew members was in trouble nearby, and the local Norwegian rescue service diverted two of the five helicopters working on the cruise ship to that rescue.
Authorities told NRK that a strong storm with high waves were preventing rescue workers from using lifeboats or tug boats to take passengers ashore.
"It's a demanding exercise because they (passengers) have to hang in the air under a helicopter and there's a very, very strong wind," witness Odd Roar Lange told NRK at the site.
Rescuers are prioritizing the nine crew on the cargo ship who need to plunge into the choppy ocean waters before being winched onto helicopters, according to Per Fjeld from the Joint Rescue Center Southern Norway.
"These people cannot be lifted from the ship because of the rough seas," he said.
Norwegian authorities said late Saturday that the evacuation would proceed all through the night into Sunday.
The Viking Sky was on a 12-day trip that began March 14 in the western Norwegian city of Bergen, according to the cruisemapper.com website.
The ship was visiting the Norwegian towns and cities of Narvik, Alta, Tromso, Bodo and Stavanger before its scheduled arrival Tuesday in the British port of Tilbury on the River Thames.
The Viking Sky, a vessel with gross tonnage of 47,800, was delivered in 2017 to operator Viking Ocean Cruises.