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Power restored at Atlanta international airport, hundreds of flights affected

Minutes after its midnight deadline to get the electricity back on at the world's busiest airport, Georgia Power announced early Monday that power had been fully restored to Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International, where more than 1,000 flights were grounded just days before the start of the Christmas travel rush.

Lights went out at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport early Sunday afternoon

Long lines form at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport after the power outage. (Steve Schaefer/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)

Minutes after its midnight deadline to get the electricity back on at the world's busiest airport, Georgia Power announced early Monday that power had been fully restored to Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International, where more than 1,000 flights were grounded just days before the start of the Christmas travel rush.

 A sudden power outage caused by a fire in an underground electrical facility brought the airport to a standstill.

The airport announced on its Twitter page minutes after its midnight deadline, "Power has been restored on all concourses. 5,000+ meals are being delivered to passengers. Trains will be operational soon."

Passengers at the airport were left in the dark when the lights suddenly went out at around 1 p.m. The blackout halted all outgoing flights, and arriving planes were held on the ground at their point of departure. International flights were being diverted, officials said.

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.

Heidi Harrington, right, and her son Dillon wait to check in for their flight to New York in a dark terminal at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport on Sunday. (Steve Schaefer/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)

"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."

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.

In efforts to help stranded passengers, the City of Atlanta has mobilized the Georgia International Convention Center and will provide shuttle services for anyone in need of a place to stay. It also said that Chick-fil-A will be providing food for passengers. 

By evening, power had been restored to at least one concourse. On its Twitter page Sunday night the airport tweeted, "Power on Concourse F is back ON! We are working with great urgency w/ (at)GeorgiaPower to restore power throughout rest of airport." Airport workers were distributing bottled water, and Dunkin' Donuts was giving out doughnuts. 

By 11:30 p.m. ET, electricity had ben restored to the airport's atrium and several concourses.

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 aren't many open seats on other flights in the last week before Christmas.

At Southwest Airlines, about 70 Atlanta departures out of 120 scheduled for Sunday were cancelled, an airline spokesperson said in an email.

​'This is terrible'

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.

"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."

Mozell Smith, 68, 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."

American Airlines reported only a handful of diversions and cancellations because the carrier does not use Atlanta as a hub, airline spokesperson Alexis Aran Coello.

Passengers wait for the lights to come back on. (Steve Schaefer/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)

Hartsfield-Jackson, which serves 104 million passengers a year, is the world's busiest airport, according to trade group Airports Council International, 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.