Flights returned to nearly normal early this morning at Buffalo Niagara International Airport as power was restored after a crippling water main break Thursday afternoon beneath the airport's terminal.
US Airways, the airport's major carrier, had canceled about 14 flights in and out of Buffalo. Restoration of electrical power at 12:30 a.m. today enabled the airline to resume its regular schedule, airport officials said.
"Things are pretty close to getting back to normal," said C. Douglas Hartmayer, public information officer for the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority "Flights are leaving close to on time, and other flights have been restored."
The terminal-wide outage had knocked out airlines' computers and telephones, jetways and baggage handling systems.
About 1,000 US Airways passengers were affected by the canceled jet and commuter flights, said Jeffrey J. Kline, a station manager for the airline.
Some US Airways passengers were routed to Rochester and Erie, Pa., to catch flights, while other flights were terminated in Rochester and passengers were bused to Buffalo.
"The impact is much greater for us, having the largest percentage of passengers," Kline said.
Other airlines, meanwhile, continued pretty much on schedule Thursday -- using manual labor.
"It's had little impact, really," said Michael C. Ryndak, general manager for Continental Airlines, where a small battery-powered lantern illuminated the front counter. "We've been able to operate all of our flights in and out."
The outage did not affect the control tower and runway lights, Hartmayer said.
"Obviously, it's caused some customer inconvenience," he said.
The power outage at the terminal, which opened in November 1997, was reported at 3:40 p.m.
Water "filled the electrical room that the (circuit) box was in," Hartmayer said.
A backup system, designed to provide between 25 and 30 percent of the building's power, kicked in, he said, allowing metal detectors and X-ray machines to operate as usual.
"We don't know what caused the pipe to burst," said Hartmayer, adding that a review to find out was under way.
Passengers and visitors arriving at the airport encountered motionless revolving doors and escalators, non-functioning sensors on sink faucets and toilets, and suspended food service.
Portable high-intensity lights illuminated the roadway directly outside, and employees stationed at parking lot exits used light sticks and flash lights.
"It's been an ordeal," said a man directing traffic at the parking lot exit.
Kathy Gagnon, her husband and two young sons arrived at 7:20 p.m. on a United Airlines flight from Chicago to visit family,
"When we landed they told us that we were going to have to walk down (the portable staircase)," she said. "We took a long time to get down here," to the baggage claim area, where ground crews lugged in baggage and deposited it on the floor.
Gagnon said the family was able to get its luggage about 40 minutes after landing.
Airline representatives said passengers seemed to be taking the inconveniences in stride, with some joking about a connection between the outage and the millennium.
"I heard that a lot today," a Continental Airlines agent conceded, saying, number people asked, "Is this a test for the Y2K?"
Similarly, airline employees remained good-natured, Hartmayer said. "They all pitched in and made the best of a difficult situation."