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Power outage paralyzes world's busiest airport, Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson

People walk through the darkened Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, Dec. 17, 2017. A power failure at the airport disrupted operations at the major transportation hub, forcing the cancellation of hundreds of flights and leaving travelers stranded on planes waiting to reach their gates. (Dustin Chambers/Copyright 2017 The New York Times)

A power outage crippled air traffic at the world's busiest airport Sunday, stranding thousands of travelers and disrupting flights nationwide, just a people begin the busy Christmas travel week.

Officials said Sunday night that the power outage at Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport p started with a fire in a Georgia Power underground electrical facility. The utility said the fire caused extensive damage, but that it hoped to have power restored by midnight. The cause of the fire had not been determined.

Meanwhile, Delta Airlines has canceled 300 flights Monday and was offering its customers traveling Sunday and Monday the opportunity to make a one-time change to their travel plans without penalty.

There were reports that some planes sat on the tarmac for more than six hours waiting to move. And, after more than six hours, power was restored to one of the airport's seven concourses.

"First and most importantly, I want to express my sincere apologies to the thousands of passengers whose day has been disrupted in this manner," Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed said during a Sunday night news conference. "We certainly understand that the outage has caused frustration and anger, and we're doing everything that we can to get folks back home right away."

Nearly 1,000 flights in and out of Atlanta, a major hub in the U.S. system, were canceled Sunday, according to a flight-tracking website.

Southwest, American and United airlines canceled operations in and out of Atlanta for the rest of Sunday. Travelers are encouraged to check with their airlines before heading to the airport Monday

Reed said the outage started shortly after 1 p.m., at one of the three Georgia Power substations at the airport and was caused by an electrical fire.

At about 1:30 p.m., the airport tweeted that there was a power outage affecting "several areas" of the airport. Officials later elaborated to say a ground stop was in place, preventing Atlanta-bound flights from departing from other airports. Meanwhile, flights out of Atlanta were experiencing delays of more than 90 minutes, according to flight-tracking website FlightAware.

The Federal Aviation Administration said in a statement that the power outage impacted the airport's terminals, but the control tower did not lose power. "However, departures are delayed because airport equipment in the terminals is not working."

In one video, passengers at an airport terminal were seen sitting in the dark as they awaited instructions over the public address system.

The passenger who shot the footage, Natalie Seitz, 23, of Queens, New York, said her Delta flight to Cleveland was canceled Sunday afternoon. After initial anxiety inside Terminal B, she said, things had calmed down by about 4:30 p.m. - even as there was little indication of when power would be restored. She said employees where wheeling around a cart of bottled water.

In the terminal, "you walk around and hear people talking to each other and jokingly yelling at the PSA system when it repeats the same thing," she said. "Most people are, at this point, taking this lightly, but some are aggravated."

Like many travelers this weekend, Seitz is headed home for Christmas - to Cleveland, where her parents live. She said she was rebooked on a flight for later tonight.

"We'll see if the power comes on before then or not," she said.

Author Information: Faiz Siddiqui is a metro reporter covering transportation and local issues.