Tens of thousands of passengers were left stranded over the weekend after an electrical fire destroyed the main substation supplying power to Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. The outage occurred on Sunday around 1 p.m. and wasn't resolved until roughly midnight. ATL is the world's busiest airport, serving approximately 275,000 passengers each day.
The outage left travelers stranded in the terminal and on planes on the tarmac. Amid the confusion, some travelers waited up to six hours to deplane. Air traffic control was also brought down so no flights could depart or land at the airport. In total, there were 1,173 cancellations and 207 delays on Sunday with more than 400 additional cancellations and 42 delays on Monday. This translated to roughly 30,000 stranded passengers.
According to accounts from travelers, the inside of the airport was chaos. Lines stretched endlessly for those looking to re-book their flight and to re-enter security. Airline officials and vendors were handing out free food and bottled water. Incoming guests were urged not to collect their baggage due to the extreme overcrowding and those with no other arrangements were forced to sleep on chairs or on the floors of terminals.
The fire took place in an electrical switching station and due to the extreme heat and toxic fumes, workers were unable to assess the damage for nearly two hours. The airport does have redundant power feeds but the backup system was also damaged in the fire.
Officials told NBC they are looking at the possibility of encasing these systems in concrete to prevent such an issue from happening again.