NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — An afternoon water main break suspended inbound international flights, and exacerbated an already chaotic situation at John F. Kennedy International Airport on Sunday.
On top of it, a blackout cut power and heat to same part of the airport affected by the water main break late in the afternoon.
Passenger patience wore increasingly thin as long delays and compounding cancellations continued several days after a major winter storm battered the Tri-State Area.
Making matters worse, the FDNY and Port Authority of New York and New Jersey responded to reports of a water main break in Terminal 4 just after 1:30 p.m. No injuries were reported as authorities worked to isolate the broken main.
The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey said the main break left three inches of water in the west end of Terminal 4 at JFK, and maintenance crews were sent in to mop and clean up.
The inner roadway at the arrivals area was closed due to excess water, but the outer roadway remained open.
International flights to Terminal 4 were suspended. Passengers who had already arrived were deplaned and taken to other terminals for processing, the Port Authority said.
Restrooms were also closed, a livery driver told 1010 WINS’ Roger Stern. The restrooms were later reopened, but the chaos continued.
“People see children crying; let us go,” the driver said.
The problems compounded even more as the afternoon went on. At 4:30 p.m., the Port Authority reported power and heat were out in about 80 percent of the west end of Terminal 4 – the very arrivals section that was affected by the water main break.
Terminal 4 had finally reopened by 8 p.m. But in all on Sunday, there were 352 delays and 46 cancellations at JFK.
Overnight, strangers huddled for warmth as fellow travellers were confused, frustrated, or downright outraged after spending yet another night at the airport.
“I’m so angry words can’t even express how I feel right now,” Bill Carver from Austin, Texas said.
Tensions ran high as thousands shared horror stories. One group managed to forage cardboard and build ramshackle “neighborhoods.” Others were stuck on dark planes on the tarmac for upwards of a day, waiting to deplane or even take off.
“I was on the plane for a good 20 hours,” frustrated traveller Michelle Lopez said told CBS2’s Reena Roy. “They took us out once to eat, then we went back to the plane.”
Dimitri Grigoryev said he had been stuck at the airport for three days.
“This is the third day, starting now,” he said. “There are 300 passengers there and I should say they’re becoming restless.”
The Port Authority said the snowstorm and extreme cold created a cascading series of problems, including frozen equipment, issues with baggage claim, and staff shortages.
The Port Authority also said there weren’t enough gates to handle the backlog of rescheduled flights since Thursday’s snowstorm forced countless cancellations. Additional staff were called in Saturday night to help, after 94 additional flights were scrapped.
Baggage was another issue entirely.
“We got to this airport at four in the morning,” passenger Rachel Greene said. “We’ve been waiting for our luggage since then. They say it’s coming, but it’s not coming.”
“We got here we had to stay on the runway for an hour and a half and we still can’t get our luggage. They said come back tomorrow,” said Lisa Brown. “It’s ridiculous. I just want to go home.”
On Saturday, the Federal Aviation Administration was forced to limit some flights into the airport including all incoming into Terminal 1. Greene says she’s never seen anything like it.
“It makes me not want to fly anywhere and definitely not out of JFK,” she said.
Even though he urged patience whenever temperatures plummet, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York) said the debacle at Kennedy Airport went well beyond the normal weather hassels.
“It seemed like almost everything broke down, it seemed like a disaster,” Schumer said on Sunday. “Whether it’s the runways not being plowed, whether it’s the baggage machines that transport the baggage freezing, whether it’s not notifying people what’s going on.”
Schumer said he wants the Port Authority to review what exactly went wrong.
CBS2 asked the Port Authority why JFK had so many more issues with the snowstorm than LaGuardia Airport or Newark Liberty International Airport. No response had been received early Sunday evening.
Officials have not provided a timeline for when things will return to normal at JFK.
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