By Taylor Barnes and Jacey Fortin
A power failure at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport on Sunday disrupted operations at the busiest airport in the world, forcing the cancellation of more than 1,150 departing or arriving flights and stranding travelers on planes on the tarmac for hours, the authorities and passengers said.
The power failure at the airport, a major hub for domestic and international flights, sent a ripple of disruptions across the country, affecting flights in Chicago, Los Angeles and elsewhere. There were signs the problems would linger into Monday, as Delta Air Lines announced Sunday evening that it planned to cancel 300 flights the next day.
Many flights in the air were diverted when the power went out, and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection said on Twitter that international flights destined for Atlanta were rerouted to other airports.
Georgia Power, the utility provider for the airport, said early Sunday evening that the failure, which occurred around 1 p.m., might have been caused by a fire that damaged an underground electrical facility and cut power to a substation serving the airport. It also damaged a backup system that provides power to the airport in emergencies.
Utility workers restored power to all terminals at the airport around midnight, city officials said.
Mayor Kasim Reed said the authorities did not know yet what caused the fire, which produced intense flames and noxious fumes that prevented utility workers from accessing the tunnels for several hours. He said they were investigating whether someone had tampered with the electrical system.
The airport is the busiest in the world for passenger traffic, serving more than 104 million passengers last year, according to Airports Council International.
As the sun set on Sunday, the airport descended into darkness, and at least three airlines canceled their remaining flights headed to Atlanta. With no announcement system working and few uniformed airline employees available, passengers said they did not know whether they should stay at the airport or how and when they could reschedule their flights.
Travelers in the south terminal were told to leave the gates and return to the other side of the security checkpoint. But with few hotels with rooms available, many passengers rested on the baggage carousels.