Power outage cripples world’s busiest airport in Atlanta

Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson airport was struck by a power outage on Dec. 17, 2017 (Photo: CNN)

ATLANTA — A power outage at the world’s busiest airport Sunday left thousands of passengers stranded in dark terminals and in planes sitting on the tarmac, as a ground stop for Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International disrupted air travel across the United States.

The outage, which affected all airport operations, started with a fire in a Georgia Power underground electrical facility, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed said. The fire’s intensity damaged two substations serving the airport, including the airport’s “redundancy system” that should have provided backup power, and delayed efforts to contain it, Reed said. Full power was expected to be restored by midnight.

“We certainly understand that the outages have caused frustration and anger and were doing everything we can to get folks back home right away,” he said, adding that the fire’s cause is still unknown.

Atlanta is the heart of the US air transport system, and the disruption led to flight delays and cancellations across the country.

Here are the latest developments:

– More than six hours into the outage, power was restored to one of seven concourses.

– Nearly 1,000 flights to and from Atlanta have been canceled, according to Flightradar24.

– Some outgoing flights have been sitting on the tarmac in Atlanta for more than six hours.

– Southwest, American and United airlines canceled operations in and out of Atlanta for the rest of Sunday.

– More than 900 Delta mainline and regional flights have been canceled and 48 flights were diverted to other airports.

– Flights headed to Atlanta are being held on the ground at their departure airport.

– Inbound flights to Atlanta are being diverted.

The blackout cut power in the terminals, leaving passengers stranded in the dark as they stood in line at gates and security checkpoints. Brittny Dettro said she was waiting to board a flight from Atlanta to Milwaukee when the power went out in Terminal B. She shot this image at 1:10 p.m. ET.

People used flashlights on their phones to see where they were going, said passenger Heather Kerwin, an Atlanta resident bound for New York.

“There were a few emergency lights on, but it was really dark — felt totally apocalyptic,” she said. “I decided to get the hell out of there.”

Some passengers told CNN that airport and airline staff offered no updates as hours passed, leaving people scanning their phones and tablets for information. Stores stopped serving food and passengers were evacuated to alleviate crowding.

The outage left passengers sitting in planes on the tarmac for hours.

Jodi Green’s Delta flight from the Bahamas landed at 1:15 p.m. ET Sunday. As of 7 p.m. she was still on the plane. Green said the pilot told passengers that other flights that had ran out of fuel were evacuated before theirs. Despite the circumstances, she said, order prevailed.

“People are calm, laughing, joking,” she said. “I’m amazed I’ve been able to sit here and not lose my mind.”

CNN’s Betsy Klein has spent more than six hours in a plane on the tarmac, waiting to move. At one point, the crew said 92 planes were stuck on the tarmac, Klein said. People maintained composure as food and drinks ran out, but by hour seven, patience was wearing thin.

The ground stop led Southwest Airlines to cancel all operations in and out of Atlanta for the rest of the day, spokesman Brian Parrish said. Customers are being offered re-bookings without fare differences, he said.

United and American Airlines also suspended operations to and from Atlanta for the rest of Sunday. Delta, which has its headquarters and largest hub in Atlanta, canceled more than 900 Delta mainline and regional flights as a result of the ground stop.

Meanwhile, Atlanta Police urged people to stay away from the airport.

“We have no injuries, no one is harmed, everyone is safe, everything is orderly,” Sgt. Warren Pickard said. “What we need the public to understand right away is that we need everyone to refrain from coming to the airport.”