A spectacular fire that led to the cancellation of 179 flights and delayed dozens more at Miami International Airport may have been caused by an electrical failure in a complex grid of underground pipes that pumps fuel to hundreds of planes each day.
Investigators still were looking into details of the damage Thursday and scrambling to repair the fueling system as thousands of frustrated passengers remained stranded.
The blaze, which started late Wednesday and burned into the early morning, caused one of the largest flight disruptions in recent years in the area. It comes during the height of South Florida’s tourist season, with major events expected to draw tens of thousands of visitors to Miami.
The sold-out Ultra Music Festival, which lures electronic music fans and DJs from around the world, starts Friday in downtown Miami. The Sony Ericsson Open tennis tournament is under way in Key Biscayne. Several other events, including the Home Design and Remodeling Show and Funkshion Fashion Week in Miami Beach, also are scheduled for the weekend.
American Airlines was the worst hit, since it operates 70 percent of the flights out of MIA. The flight cancellations and delays are more than double that of a few months ago, when heavy snowstorms swept the nation and stranded passengers.
Spokesmen for American and MIA said Thursday it was unclear when flights at the airport will be back to normal. As MIA is the second busiest airport in the country for international flights, the delays and cancellations were affecting passengers across South and Central America as well as the United States.
Responding to questions from Miami-Dade County commissioners about the exact cause of the problems and a timeline for repairs, Miami-Dade Aviation Department Director José Abreu replied: “I just don’t know.”
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