MIAMI — Miami International Airport hopes to reopen for limited passenger service Tuesday after Hurricane Irma forced a days-long closure and damaged parts of the terminals and gates.
The high winds pushed water through window seals and through roof joints, causing minor flooding through the sprawling complex. Even the war room where airport managers met Monday morning was damaged by water.
The storm also knocked out portions of the airport's security fence and damaged some gate areas and awnings, airport CEO Emilio Gonzalez said.
He said the gradual reopening would allow airport staff, airline workers and security screeners time to return to their posts following the mandatory evacuation. Airlines will decide for themselves how to restart their operations once the airport declares itself ready.
Miami International Airport last year served 44.5 million passengers on more than 80 airlines.
On Monday, airport officials didn't know which airlines would begin flying first. "Nobody wants to get planes in and out more than me," Gonzalez said. "But we can't just flip a switch."
Airport managers urged passengers to check with their airline before heading to the airport, in case of any hiccups or unforeseen delays.
The FAA must re-certify the airport meets security standards. That may mean airport workers would have to stand guard over any fence breaches or areas that should have been patrolled but weren't during the storm. Other challenges: ensuring the airport's 9 million gallons of aviation fuel are uncontaminated, and draining the 2-3 feet of water sitting atop the employee parking lot.
At least one international carrier was flying Monday in a jet filled with the staff needed to get its ticketing and flight operations running again. Many airlines flew their planes and staff elsewhere in the country before the storm, and local staff may still be dealing with storm damage at their own homes, Gonzalez said.
Monday afternoon, the airport remained almost entirely empty except for a few hundred staff, as well as customers with nowhere else to go. Pre-recorded TSA security admonishments and greetings from Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos A. Giménez echoed through the deserted concourses as a skeleton crew of workers emptied trash and cleaned up storm debris.
Several dozen mattresses covered a portion of one terminal floor, temporary beds for stranded travelers, while the airport's "Storm Rider" essential staff met to strategize reopening plans
Many stranded travelers declined to be interviewed or photographed, citing their lack of showers.
Their legs covered by a blanket, Jennie Langtofl, 25, and Simone Hoeier, 24, watched a movie on an iPad and waited for their flight — which might leave Tuesday.
The two Denmark residents have been vacationing in the U.S. for three weeks and were supposed to fly out Saturday, when the storm's intensity peaked.
They checked into a hotel but were forced to leave for a shelter. "It wasn't fun being kicked out, but since then everyone has been very nice," Hoeier said.