Stacy St. Clair, Daily Herald Staff Writer via reports:

Four hours after an electrical explosion knocked out power at O’Hare Monday, Joe Balleres stood in a long security line fanning himself with his boarding pass.

“I have no complaints except that the air conditioning isn’t working, and this line is so long,” the Rolling Meadows man said.

It would be another half hour before he passed through and headed toward his gate. His flight, however, was still scheduled to depart on time.

“That’s all I care about,” he said.

Balleres, like most passengers who passed through O’Hare Monday afternoon, took the power outage in stride.

The outage occurred in Terminal 2, which houses US Airways, Continental Airlines, Northwest Airlines and America West, among others. Portions of Terminal 3, home to American Airlines and Delta Air Lines operations, also lost electricity.

The explosion happened around noon when a subcontractor inadvertently separated some wires, Chicago Aviation Commissioner John Roberson said. Two workers were taken to the Loyola Medical Center in Maywood, where they are being treated for first- and second-degree burns.

The injuries are not life-threatening, officials said.

The outage did not affect air traffic control or airplane maintenance, Roberson said.

Some carriers - primarily US Airways and American - delayed flights in order to give passengers enough time to pass through security. Aviation officials could not say how many planes were delayed.

Without electricity, airline employees filled out boarding passes by hand. Security personnel used hand wands to check passengers for contraband, while bomb-sniffing dogs replaced baggage screening machines until power was restored.

A back-up generator was brought in, but could not immediately restore total power. Despite the more primitive measures, airport officials contend all passengers and baggage were properly screened.

“Security was never compromised in any way during this time,” Roberson said.

Passengers seeking such reassurances, however, rarely found them. Airline employees repeatedly refused to discuss the outage’s cause with confused fliers.

A recorded message explaining the power loss played occasionally, though it was inaudible in several areas of Terminal 2.

“They won’t say what’s going on, and then I see the bomb-sniffing dogs,” said Continental passenger Jeff Blakley of Beloit, Wis. “You begin to think ‘What’s really going on? Should I be flying today?’æ”

Many passengers were relieved to know it was just a few crossed wires.

“It’s hot, and the lines are long,” Kevin Jordan of Villa Park said. “But it’s not as bad as when there’s a thunderstorm.”

Posted 7/13/2004