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Water main break, baggage pileup at JFK airport add to winter travel chaos

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What was already a chaotic situation at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport just got worse.

A water main break led to a shutdown of international flights into Terminal 4 on Sunday — the latest in a “cascading series” of problems that included delayed flights, stranded passengers and baggage pileups.

No international arrival flights were allowed into the terminal Sunday afternoon, but international departures were not affected, the airport tweeted.

The airport urged passengers to contact their airlines for flight information and said in an earlier tweet that the water main break was causing flight delays.

Extreme cold and ongoing recovery from Thursday’s brutal winter storm that snarled air traffic to the airport “created a cascading series of issues for the airlines and terminal operators over the weekend,” the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which manages the airport, said in a statement earlier Sunday.

“These included frozen equipment breakdowns, difficulties in baggage handling, staff shortages, and heavier than typical passenger loads,” the statement said.

“These challenges left passengers on planes for extensive periods, as the airlines and terminal operators experienced delays in getting aircraft in and out of gates,” the statement added.

As of Sunday afternoon, nearly 50 flights were canceled and more than 300 flights were delayed arriving and departing the airport, according to flight tracking website FlightAware.

On Saturday, there were 1,008 arrivals and departures and 94 canceled flights, the Port Authority statement said.

Weary travelers faced hours-long waits on the tarmac and additional hours-long waits to retrieve their baggage once they were in the terminal, NBC New York reported.

"It’s getting like a madhouse," traveler Steven Litvin told NBC New York. "People are getting upset. You have little kids, you have animals. It’s a madhouse."

Litvin said he and his wife were leaving the airport eight hours after their flight landed — with only half their luggage.

"We’re tired," he said. "We’re frustrated. We didn’t get any sleep and we still don’t know where our bags are. Nobody knows anything and they all give you a circular answer: 'it’s coming soon.'"

The airline Virgin Atlantic tweeted in the early morning hours Sunday that police were called to a "disturbance" at a gate they were sharing with another airline after a flight was cancelled.

And earlier Saturday at JFK, the right wing of a China Southern plane hit the tail of a Kuwait Airways plane, the Port Authority said in a statement. No injuries were reported.

The Federal Aviation Administration added that the planes touched while the China Southern plane was being towed to a taxiway and the Kuwait Airways plane was at the gate awaiting departure.

The Port Authority said in its statement Sunday that airlines "remain in recovery mode, rebooking passengers from canceled flights and reuniting passengers with their luggage."

"Frigid temperatures continue to cause equipment failures and slower than normal operations," the statement said. "Customers may experience residual delays, particularly for international flights."

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