Hundreds of flights were delayed or canceled Sunday after a fire caused a power outage at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta, officials said.
The outage, first reported around 1:30 p.m. local time, wreaked havoc on a major US transit hub, leaving thousands of passengers stranded in dark terminals and marooned on the tarmac.
"Georgia Power, which is the facility responsible for the power here at the airport, along with airport officials, are on the scene. We're trying to determine how soon the power will be back on," Andrew Gobeil, the airport's deputy director of policy and communications, told BuzzFeed News Sunday afternoon.
Shortly after, the Federal Aviation Administration said in a statement that it had "put in a ground stop for flights headed to Hartsfield-Jackson," meaning that flights to Atlanta were being held at their departure airports.
By the time power was fully restored, just before midnight, the outage had led to the cancellation of more than 1,000 flights to and from Atlanta.
After several hours of darkness, Georgia Power said it believed that "the issue may have involved a fire which caused extensive damage" to one of the utility's underground electrical facilities.
In a press conference Sunday night, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed apologized to the nearly 30,000 people affected by the massive power outage.
"We certainly understand that the outage has caused frustration and anger and we are doing everything that we can to get folks back home right away," he said.
Reed explained that the outage was caused by an electrical fire that erupted in one of the airport's substations, knocking out its main power source as well as its backup system. The strength of the blaze meant the tunnels beneath the airport were filled with flames and fumes, hindering Georgia Power's ability to repair the grid.
"Because of the intensity of the heat, it took approximately one and a half to two hours to make sure the fire was adequately contained," Reed said.
The cause of the fire is not yet known, Georgia Power said in a statement, adding that "no personnel or passengers were in danger at any time."
"Georgia Power has many redundant systems in place to ensure reliability for the Airport and its millions of travelers — power outages affecting the Airport are very rare," the statement said.
Hartsfield-Jackson, a Delta Airlines hub, is the busiest airport in the world, according to the Airports Council International, with more than 2,500 flights and an average of 275,000 passengers every day.
Delta said it had canceled approximately 900 mainline and Delta Connection flights Sunday and diverted 48 flights to other airports, and Southwest Airlines announced just before 5 p.m. Sunday that all of its flights in and out of the Atlanta airport were canceled for the rest of the day.
The outage cut power to the terminals, causing mass disruptions as people tried to figure out what was going on in the dark.
Ellen Carmichael was waiting to get off a plane after a Delta flight from Munich to Atlanta around 5 p.m. Sunday when the pilot told passengers it would be a long time before they were allowed deplane.
"We are experiencing a lot of cabin fever," Carmichael told BuzzFeed News, noting that the flight had been over 10 hours long. "There's very restless babies and anxious adults on board trying to figure out what's going on. I mean, no one here expects to make connections; no one here expects to go home."
It's "sort of unbelievable that the world's largest airport would not have a contingency plan for something like this," she added.