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California

LAX power outage brings chaos, questions, anger

LAX chaos continues with terminal evacuation.

Authorities were trying to determine why a power outage Wednesday night caused hours of chaos that brought Los Angeles International Airport to a standstill.

The power outage left passengers frustrated, with headaches extending into Thursday morning.

Travelers in Terminal 1, served by Southwest Airlines, were evacuated shortly after 6 a.m. and were being re-screened by the Transportation Security Administration after officials determined that “prohibited items” had made their way into the airport during Wednesday night’s outage.

“An airline granted passengers whose flights were canceled access to their checked bags, resulting in the unintentional introduction of prohibited items into the secure area at the airport,” said Lorie Dankers, a spokeswoman for the TSA. “Out of an abundance of caution, TSA leadership at LAX made the decision to re-screen the passengers.”

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It is not clear what type of prohibited items were identified.

Once the terminal was cleared of passengers, airport police conducted a security sweep of the area. Officers used dogs to search for any prohibited items, said Heath Montgomery, an airport spokesman.

“When TSA asks us to do something like this, we do it,” Montgomery said.

Freddy Lafoou, 25 from Bay Area slept in terminal 1 through the night as he flys Southwest Airlines
Freddy Lafoou, 25, from the San Francisco Bay Area, slept in Terminal 1 overnight waiting for a Southwest Airlines flight to Salt Lake City. He left San Francisco at 6 p.m. Wednesday and expects to arrive in Salt Lake at 6 p.m. Thursday.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles TImes)

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Hundreds of passengers stood in a lengthy line that snaked outside the terminal as they waited to be checked by security. Airport officials said shortly before 7 a.m. that the process would take about an hour; the line had cleared by 8:40 a.m. Southwest Airlines reported 10 flight cancellations and 15 delays associated with the re-screening.

“Passengers flying with Southwest should contact the airline for the latest on their flight,” airport officials wrote on Twitter.

When Carrie Barnett of Thousand Oaks arrived at LAX early Thursday for her 9 a.m. flight to Nebraska, she encountered a massive crowd and a large police presence outside the Southwest terminal.

“Police were trying to usher people through the drop-off process outside,” she said. “The line of people wrapped around the security area all the way through the terminal and outside.”

Travelers whose flights had been canceled Wednesday night returned to the airport early Thursday and breezed through security in less than 10 minutes. However, they were then ushered out of the terminal, she said. Barnett had been standing in line for about 45 minutes when the TSA began screening people and allowing them to return to the departure area.

The screening process was moving like “405 traffic,” she said.

“It’s stop and go,” she said. “I’m just riding this wave of people.”

Some travelers, including 29-year-old Shaelyn Terrio, had spent the night on the airport floor after the outage forced her flight to be canceled.

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Terrio and her family had left for LAX early Wednesday night, hoping for a smooth travel experience, but when she and her three young children arrived at the airport the power was out. An hour later, their flight was canceled.

She booked a flight for Thursday night and settled in for a lengthy airport stay. Staff handed out chips, cookies and emergency blankets to many people lying on the terminal floor, she said.

Staff woke the family about 4:30 a.m. and they passed smoothly through security before grabbing some breakfast. Then they were told to leave the terminal.

Lines backup in Terminal 1 as passengers are allowed back into the terminal after officials evacuate
Some LAX passengers were unsure where to go Thursday when Terminal 1 was reopened.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles TImes)

After again making her way into the airport, Terrio — her hair disheveled and visibly exhausted — sat with her children near the baggage check area waiting for her flight. Her 8-year-old son, Phoenix, muttered quietly as she fed an infant in her arms.

“The sun was still rising. We ate on the run,” she said. “This morning they keep saying it was a security breach, but when they were evacuating, they didn’t say anything.”

Dora Evans, 59, said she encountered a chaotic scene. Confusion prevailed as hundreds of people gathered in several lines to pass through security, only to learn later that their fights had been canceled or delayed.

People were upset, she said. Most were glued to their phones, trying to get a new flight or reach family members to update them.

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“What can you do?” she said. “It doesn’t work to get all upset about it. I know in case of chaos to try to calm down and take a deep breath.”

Wednesday’s power outage, which began shortly before 6:30 p.m., was the result of a glitch at a Los Angeles Department of Water and Power station, said Olga Gallardo, an LAX spokeswoman.

Gallardo said generators immediately kicked in following the outage, but it took about 1½ hours for the TSA and other airport staff to reboot their systems.

Power was fully restored to Terminals 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and the Tom Bradley International Terminal within the first hour, but power remained off at Terminals 1, 7 and 8. At 9:35 p.m., the airport announced that power was restored to Terminal 7. Power was back on at Terminal 8 roughly 10 minutes later. Terminal 1 had power around 10 p.m.

A Los Angeles Department of Water and Power spokeswoman said power was completely restored to the airport by 10:40 p.m. The outage forced the cancellation of 18 Southwest Airlines and three United Airlines flights on Wednesday. United also had nine aircraft divert from LAX to other airports.

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Fallon Anderson, 27, left, who was on her way from Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, to Phoenix, spent the night at Terminal 1 when her connecting flight was canceled.
(AL Seib / Los Angeles Times)

hannah.fry@latimes.com

Twitter: @Hannahnfry


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