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Power outage that snarled Raleigh-Durham airport caused by cleaning crew spill

Passengers complained of long lines and hours of delays at North Carolina hub.

A "major power disruption" grounded operations Friday at Raleigh-Durham International Airport in North Carolina, a morning-long headache that officials traced to a cleaning crew mishap.

The outage happened at Terminal 2, which plays host to Air Canada, Allegiant Air, and Alaska, American, Delta, Frontier, JetBlue, Spirit, Sun Country and United Airlines, according to a statement the airport posted at 4:10 a.m.

Lines of passengers are seen outside Raleigh-Durham International Airport after a power outage caused major delays Friday. via WRAL

By about 8:55 a.m., around two-thirds of Terminal 2’s operating systems had been restored. And then at 11:29 a.m., RDU said a damaged circuit breaker was replaced, restoring power to all systems.

"Flyers should still anticipate longer wait times, so be sure to check with your airline for flight status and arrive at the airport early," RDU said.

The outage was blamed on "water damage to a power distribution center in our main terminal," the airport had said.

Staff "began responding to water damage" at Terminal 2 at about 1 a.m., according to the airport.

Hours later, a crew from Maynard Electric replaced the damaged circuit breaker, after getting a call for service at about 5 a.m., the company said.

Airport employees initially tried to fix it themselves before determining "that outside resources needed to be brought in," according to an RDU statement.

“It took time in the middle of the night to mobilize resources with the specific technical expertise required to diagnose and repair the damaged electrical system,” according to an airport statement on the delayed call for help.

RDU pinpointed the incident to a cleaning crew accident.

"A cleaning crew spilled a large amount of water that seeped into the floor, damaging and tripping an electrical system," according to an airport representative.

The mishap caused a ripple effect of traveler misery throughout the day.

By 3:30 p.m. there had been 73 delays and 44 cancellations of flights out of RDU, according to airline-tracking site FlightAware.

Terminal 1, which houses Southwest Airlines, was not impacted.

The North Carolina hub serves 38 nonstop destinations and three international spots.

Before the coronavirus pandemic, the airport averaged about 14 million passengers a year. It has since returned to about 75 percent of that traffic, an airport rep said.