A sudden power outage brought the world's busiest airport to a standstill on Sunday, grounding more than 1,000 flights in Atlanta just days before the start of the Christmas travel rush.
More than 10 hours after the blackout began, authorities announced that electricity had been restored to several areas of Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International.
Georgia Power said on its Twitter page late on Sunday that power was back in the airport's atrium and several concourses. It tweeted to the Associated Press that several more were still being worked on. The utility said earlier it expected power to be fully restored by midnight.
Power restored for all essential activities at— Georgia Power (@GeorgiaPower) December 18, 2017
Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport pic.twitter.com/3oHcky3byM
Passengers at the airport were left in the dark when the lights went out at around 1pm local time. The outage halted all outgoing flights, and arriving planes were held on the ground at their point of departure. International flights were being diverted, officials said.
Mayor Kasim Reed tweeted on Sunday night that all passengers had been safely deplaned.
Delta passenger Emilia Duca, 32, was on her way to Wisconsin from Bogota, Colombia, when she got stuck in Atlanta. She said police made passengers who were in the baggage-claim area move to a higher floor. She said restaurants and shops were closed. Vending machines were not working.
"A lot of people are arriving, and no one is going out. No one is saying anything official. We are stuck here," she said. "It's a nightmare."
Delta, with its biggest hub operation in Atlanta, will be hardest hit. By evening, Delta had already cancelled almost 800 Sunday flights and another 250 on Monday, nearly all of them in Atlanta, according to tracking service FlightAware.com.
Robert Mann, an aviation consultant and former American Airlines executive, said it likely will be Tuesday before Delta's operations in Atlanta return to normal, and for passengers "it could be most of the week" because there are not many open seats on other flights in the last week before Christmas.
LIGHTS ON and delivering food and water to our passengers! Thank you @dancathy with @ChickfilA for opening on a SUNDAY! #ChristmasMiracle pic.twitter.com/0PlSxHIWj5— Atlanta Airport (@ATLairport) December 18, 2017
"Tomorrow is going to be a long and difficult day for everybody," Mr Mann said.
One bit of good news, according to Mann: Delta has more spare planes and available crews in Atlanta than anywhere else, which will help it to recover.
While Delta was hit hardest by the outage, other airlines also cancelled flights for the rest of Sunday. American Airlines cancelled 24 departures and an equal number of arrivals, said spokesman Ross Feinstein. The airline also diverted three planes that were headed to Atlanta when the outage struck, sending them instead to Dallas, Nashville and back to Philadelphia.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said it would staff the airport control tower throughout the night so that it can handle flights once they resume.
The FAA said the tower could operate normally but flights were affected because airport equipment in the terminals was not working.
According to a Georgia Power statement, a fire in an underground electrical facility may have been responsible for the outage. The cause of the fire was not known.
"No personnel or passengers were in danger at any time," the statement said.
No areas outside of the airport were affected by the power loss. The utility said that there are "many redundant systems in place" to ensure the power supply to the airport and that such outages at the airport "are very rare."
That wasn't enough to comfort Jeff Smith, 46, of Pittsburgh, who ended up stuck in a plane on the tarmac for three hours after it landed.
"This is the worst experience I've ever had at an airport," he said.
Officer Lisa Bender of the Atlanta Police Department said officers were at the airport to help with crowd control and managing traffic around the airport.
Mozell Smith, 58, of Atlanta arrived at the airport hours after the electricity went off. He was headed to Las Vegas with a sister and a friend.
"This is terrible. I wish someone would've given us a heads-up before we got to the airport," he said. "I wish there would have been better communication."
Hartsfield-Jackson, which serves 104 million passengers a year, is the world's busiest airport, a distinction it has held since 1998.
The airport serves an average of 275,000 passengers daily, according to its website. Nearly 2,500 planes arrive and depart each day.