Mayor Kasim Reed started off an evening news conference with an apology.
“First and most importantly, I was to express my sincere apologies to the thousands of passengers whose day has been disrupted in this manner,” he said. “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.”
Reed said the outage started shortly after 1 p.m., at one of the three Georgia Power substations at the airport. It was caused by an electrical fire that started some time between 12:30 p.m and 12:45 p.m.
“That fire caused multiple faults in our system, and those faults affected the multiple power sources that we have for the airport,” said Bentina Terry, Georgia Power’s senior vice president of the Metro Atlanta region.
The fire was so intense that Georgia Power workers could not access the tunnels until it had been extinguished and the fumes were aired out. That meant that work on repairing the damage was delayed until 3 p.m or 4 p.m., Reed said.
By 9 p.m., power had been restored to Concourse F. Reed said he expected the airport to be at full power by midnight.
Safety and security were a focus, and Reed said it was too early to say for certain what caused the fire or rule out terrorism, although there were no early signs of foul play.
“There is no evidence to suggest that the fire was caused deliberately,” he said. “Even so we are taking this matter extremely seriously in making sure that after this fire event occurred, that the airport is safe and secure to begin operating.”
Reed said that the Georgia International Convention Center a short drive from the airport was prepared to accommodate up to 10,000 passengers. Others had taken MARTA and were staying at hotels. Some would remain at the airport. The Georgia World Congress Center was also on standby, he said.
He said the time would come later to investigate what had happened and identify places where communication or the response to the crisis could have been better. But as the news conference ended around 9 p.m., Reed said that time had not come yet.
“The bottom line was you had a choice, do you want to know how the fire started or do you want to get the power back on?” he said. “So we made the decision today to focus our resources on solving the problem and getting folks home and we can all sit around talking about how the fire started at another time.”