ATLANTA - A power outage at the world's busiest airport left thousands of travelers stranded and hundreds of planes at a standstill right before the rush of holiday travel.
The outage was reported at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport at 1:00 Sunday afternoon. Nearly six hours later, Georgia Power said the outage was caused by fire in an underground facility. It also damaged the backup system.
We'll have continuing coverage on wsbtv.com and on Channel 2 Action News This Morning starting at 4:30 a.m.
"Because of the intensity of the fire, the switch which accesses the redundant system was damaged," Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed said in a news conference Sunday night.
Reed said police are conducting a security sweep at the airport, but at this time, there is no evidence the fire was set deliberately.
“We have no way of absolutely knowing, at this time, that our system may have been tampered with in order to create this kind of chaos and confusion," Reed said.
He tweeted around 7:30 p.m. that the power in Concourse F has been restored.
Power at Concourse F is back on. If you are in another concourse, please remain there. We have an additional update on when full power will be restored from @GeorgiaPower.— Kasim Reed (@KasimReed) December 18, 2017
Just before 11:30 p.m. the airport's twitter account tweeted that power had been restored to about half of the airport.
Power is back ON in Atrium and Concourses T, A and B!— Atlanta Airport (@ATLairport) December 18, 2017
The mayor said part of the delay in getting power restored is that crews could not access the tunnels to get to the outage because they were filled with a poisonous gas.
Georgia Power expects all electricity to be restored by midnight.
Police evacuating travelers from airport
Officials with the Atlanta Police Department told Channel 2's Matt Johnson earlier Sunday evening they were asking people to stay away from the airport because they were evacuating travelers.
Exits to the airport were initially shut down, but police are later allowed drivers to pick up passengers downstairs. Atlanta police, Clayton County police and the Georgia State Patrol were all on scene directing traffic.
FAA orders ground stop, hundreds of flights canceled
The FAA ordered a ground stop on all flights headed to the airport due to the power outage. International flights into Atlanta were being diverted to other airports.
Channel 2's Nefertiti Jaquez learned major airlines JetBlue, Delta Airlines, United Airlines, Southwest and American Airlines have canceled all flights for the remainder of the day.
Delta Air Lines' official Twitter account tweeted "flight disruptions are expected as a result and customers are encouraged to check the status of their flight."
Due to the power outage, Delta canceled all remaining flights around 7:15 p.m. on Sunday. The airline says it canceled approximately 900 mainline and regional flights on Sunday.
"Pending full resumption of power, Delta anticipates a near-full schedule Monday in Atlanta, though some delays and cancellations can be expected. Delta continues to deplane the remaining customers from aircraft that have not been able to park at terminal gates that require power to operate. The airline will also work to reunify customers with their luggage once power is restored," the airline said in a statement.
Around 10 p.m. Sunday, the airline announced that it had also canceled 300 flights Monday.
A travel waiver has been issued for Delta customers flying to, from or through Atlanta allowing customers to make one-time changes to their travel plans. To learn more, click here.
The FAA tweeted Sunday night that it will retain normal staffing throughout the night so they are ready to handle flights when they resume.
Update: #FAA will retain normal staffing in the Air Traffic Control Tower at @ATLairport throughout the night. Air traffic controllers will be ready to handle flights as soon as they resume.— The FAA (@FAANews) December 18, 2017
Please contact the airport and airlines for information about their operations.
Extra patrols on hand directing traffic
Extra patrols from the Atlanta Police Department were on hand to deal with the crowds Sunday. Gov. Nathan Deal also sent two Initial Response Teams comprised of 24 Georgia Department of Public Safety troopers to assist.
Channel 2 Action News also learned Atlanta Fire units were put on standby.
Passengers stranded for hours
Cumming resident Katie Mull was stuck on her Delta flight for more than four hours. She was then stuck at the airport.
"We were so excited to leave the airplane finally and then they routed us to concourse F and once we got there, it was pitch black," Mull told Channel 2's Justin Wilfon by phone. "Security stopped us and told us we could no longer move due to the fact that the tunnels were so dark."
Mull said they began taking groups of 50 through the concourses led by flashlights. Mull said the mood was mostly calm inside the airport until there was reports of smoke and an electrical fire. She said travelers were frustrated because they didn't feel a plan was in place to get them out safely.
MARTA not impacted by outage
MARTA said the airport outage did not effect its service. In a news release, officials said trains are running and the breeze system is operating.
MARTA also said its College Park station parking lot was filling up with airport staff coming in to help and MARTA police were offering assistance to security at the airport.
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