Chaos reigned at New York’s flagship airport for a third consecutive day on Sunday with one terminal flooded and irate passengers stranded by chronic delays blamed on brutal cold and a deadly winter storm.
Arrivals were significantly disrupted into Terminal Four at John F Kennedy International Airport, where a water pipe broke, compounding chaos blamed on a “cascading series of issues.”
Water poured from the ceiling and the arrivals area was submerged by around 8cm of water, through which a few intrepid passengers picked their way gingerly, CNN footage showed.
“What happened at JFK Airport is unacceptable,” admitted Rick Cotton, executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which is responsible for area airports.
“We will hold those responsible accountable for any shortcomings we find,” he added.
The incident highlighted complaints about poor infrastructure serving the US financial capital, home to 8.5mn people, with a crisis in the subway and derailments in recent years on commuter trains.
The cause of the break appeared to be “weather-related” but would be investigated, as would why the pipe had not been weather protected and whether other failures contributed to the disruption, officials said.
After the pipe broke and water began flooding the terminal, power to the affected areas was shut off for safety reasons, officials said.
Domestic arrivals and departures, and international departures operated with delays.
A string of international flights were diverted to other airports or terminals. Terminal 4 is used by more than 30 airlines
Tempers flared for days among exhausted travellers, forced to sleep on the floor of terminals, with others stranded on planes for hours waiting to access a gate and massive delays in baggage claim.
Hugo Zylberberg, a 28-year-old researcher, said while his 11-hour flight from Egypt was on time, it took an hour to find a gate, another hour at customs and then an hour and a half to wait for his luggage.
“There’s still like a hundred people waiting for their luggage,” he said.
“I’m pretty exhausted. I’m waiting to get home. It’s kind of crazy,” he said. “People were starting to be pretty angry.”
Rajesh Varadarajan, a 41-year-old software consultant en route from India to Trinidad, whose connecting flight to the Caribbean had been delayed more than 24 hours, sat JFK cut a poor comparison to airports such as Dubai or Singapore, and newer airports in his home country.
“It’s far from it, because I mean just look around; there’s no place to sit,” he said. “Even Dunkin’ Donuts is closed.”
On Saturday, Terminal One was briefly closed and 94 flights cancelled and 17 diverted, as the extreme cold and storm recovery “created a cascading series of issues,” said the Port Authority.
The US East Coast has been gripped by days of record-breaking cold temperatures after a storm Thursday, dubbed a “bomb cyclone,” which was blamed for at least 22 reported deaths.
Boston, which saw some of the heaviest snow from the storm, froze with a Sunday morning low of minus 19 degrees Celsius — matching the previous January 7 record in 1896.
Highs below freezing lingered on the East Coast as far south as North Carolina, with temperatures due to rise.
Passengers wait for their flights, delayed by Storm Grayson, at John F Kennedy airport on Sunday.