Under the pall of tragedy lay a logistical nightmare.
In the aftermath of Friday’s slaughter, Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport was a jumbled mass of humanity.
Travelers, some suffering from stiff joints after sleeping in a Red Cross shelter overnight, scrambled to book flights to replace the ones canceled during Friday’s chaos. Some had to retrieve lost luggage, cellphones, purses, prescriptions, eyeglasses and other possessions left behind in the helter-skelter evacuation the day before. A lack of identification made the gridlock even worse.
Robert Reynolds, a senior manager for training and quality assurance at Spirit Airlines, pushed a cart through Terminal 3 passing out free bottles of water to parched passengers enduring long lines.
Meanwhile, in the baggage claim area where Esteban Santiago opened fire the day before, leaving five dead and others wounded, a hazmat crew cloaked in protective gear ripped up the blood-soaked carpet and shoved it into large red bags.
Heavily armed police patrolled the airport, guns drawn.
Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood is a major portal for tourists, including cruise ship passengers, and some of them had literally missed the boat.
I heard so many stories about people who were charging their cellphones, they just got up and ran and left their phones behind.
Ellen Kennedy, spokeswoman for Port Everglades
Many weary would-be passengers had their patience tested as they tried to get to their final destinations. One travel party passed the time perched atop their luggage playing a spirited game of cards.
Among those separated from their baggage: Uwe Gnasnick, a German tourist. “Thank God we have our credit cards and passports,” said Gnasnick, who hid behind benches in Terminal 1 with his wife and young daughter when passengers shouted to get down during the uncertain aftermath of Friday’s fusillade. They were bound for Seattle late Saturday, but four of their checked bags were already en route since the morning. Meanwhile, authorities were unable to tell them how to get the carry-ons they had abandoned the day before.
“Nobody knows what’s going on,” Anita Gnasnick said.
After a 14-hour shutdown, the airport reopened at 5 a.m. Saturday, and soon after between 5,000 and 7,000 people who spent the night in local hotels and at the Red Cross shelter at Port Everglades returned in hopes of sorting our their travel plans. As operations slowly got up and running, lines snaked outside terminals amid cancellations and delays.
Delta Air Lines, one of two lines serviced at Terminal 2, canceled many of its flights into Fort Lauderdale. The airline sent 25 additional employees down from its base in Atlanta to help process passengers, and added flights to Miami International Airport and Palm Beach International Airport to handle the scores of displaced travelers, creating logjams at both. The airline provided buses for travelers who left their cars parked in Fort Lauderdale but were now returning to Miami.
Broward Aviation spokesman Greg Meyer said that travelers who left their cars in Fort Lauderdale but were diverted to other airports will not be penalized if they explain their situation to cashiers.
“The plan is to not gouge the travelers,” Meyer said. “We don't want to add any stress to the situation.”
In Fort Lauderdale, there were two-hour waits in Terminal 2 to get to the Delta and Air Canada check-in counters. In addition to water, Spirit Airlines employees handed out other snacks — a variety of Wise potato chips and Coke Zero — to tired passengers. The Broward Sheriff’s Office delivered doughnuts and drinks to its deputies.
Because some travelers had their identification in their left-behind bags, the Department of Motor Vehicles sent two buses to issue temporary IDs.
“It’s very nerve-wracking being back today,” said Jennifer Fenton Cournoyer, an associate head coach of the University of Vermont swimming and diving team that was in South Florida to train for a competition in Maryland. The team missed that meet, and several members stood in line at the DMV buses to get IDs so they could fly home.
It’s eerie being here.
Matt Freiburger, who was trying to return home to Milwaukee after taking a Caribbean cruise
At Terminal 4, Phyllis Martin and her family were waiting to check in for a flight to Maryland and seemed to be in good spirits. She said her granddaughter and some other family members decided to drive back to Maryland because of Friday’s shooting, but she wasn’t worried as she arrived on Saturday.
“I'm not going to agonize over something I have no control over,” Martin said. “You know the Serenity Prayer? That's me.
At Miami International, rerouted travelers accepted that their journeys home would be convoluted. The Van Puffelen family was among them. They just wanted to get back to The Netherlands.
25,000 items left in the terminal Friday that were being sorted through by airport officials on Saturday
On the way over from Naples, they got a text message that a flight to Minneapolis would now leave at 4:45 p.m. Upon arrival in Miami, they learned the departure wouldn’t allow them to make their connection to Amsterdam.
So, they’re in Florida until Tuesday night. But the trio accepted a two-day addendum to their two-week vacation with amused smiles and, from teenager Perry Van Puffelen, outright glee (no school).
“You can’t change it,” the well-tanned Nicole Van Puffelen said.
Unclaimed baggage in Terminal 1 at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport on Saturday, January 7, 2017 the day after multiple people were shot at the airport. firstname.lastname@example.org/Al Diaz
Cruise passengers also felt the impact.
South Florida’s ports usually have their busiest days of the year in December and January. Port Everglades had six cruise ships departing on Saturday plus a ferry to Freeport, Bahamas, and four on Sunday.
Two ships that were to leave port on Friday delayed their departures at least five hours to accommodate people stuck at the airport, said Ellen Kennedy, the port’s spokeswoman. Even so, some people arrived after their ships had sailed.
On Saturday, three Carnival Cruise Line ships were scheduled to depart from Port Everglades and PortMiami, but spokeswoman Jennifer de la Cruz said she had not received reports of passengers having trouble getting to the ports on time.
On Saturday, Norwegian Cruise Line pushed back the departure of the Norwegian Getaway for two hours to accommodate any delayed guests. Even so, about 100 people missed the ship. They will be able to rebook, said spokeswoman Vanessa Picariello.
Many passengers arrived Friday night at Port Everglades with very little of their belongings. Broward County brought extra cellphones so people could dial home and call airlines to arrange new flights.
Customs and TSA staff worked with passengers who had lost their passports to get them aboard ship, Kennedy said.
Hours after the harrowing ordeal, the stranded looked out for one another.
“I was just so impressed and moved by the kindness of the passengers toward each other,” she said. “There was one couple who came into the port without their shoes, without their backpacks, their passports, their cellphones. They had nothing. One man came up to them with a pair of [sandals] and said ‘You look like you’re my size, please take these. I have sneakers.’ ”
Miami Herald staff writers Chabeli Herrera, Marjie Lambert and David J. Neal contributed to this report.
Resources for travelers
▪ Passengers missing luggage and personal items at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport can call 866-435-9355.
▪ Home-sharing platform Airbnb is offering free refuge for displaced travelers. Through Monday, the service will connect passengers affected by delays and cancellations with free rentals.
▪ Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Florida is offering free grief counseling to anyone in the area impacted by the tragic shooting at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport. The company is working with New Directions Behavioral Health to offer counseling in English and Spanish. To get in touch with a counselor, call the 24-hour, toll-free help line at 800-843-6514.