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2 Evacuations at LAX Delay 3,000 Travelers

June 28, 2003|Monte Morin and Jose Cardenas | Times Staff Writers

Illegal fireworks left in an airport bathroom and a separate tip about another supposed threat resulted in the evacuation of four terminal buildings Friday at Los Angeles International Airport, delaying flights for nearly 3,000 passengers and snarling traffic for almost five hours, according to police and airport authorities.

Tom Bradley International Terminal and three domestic terminal buildings used by United Airlines were emptied in the two incidents, leaving up to 4,000 travelers and their rides on sidewalks and streets.

The first evacuation, which affected Terminals 6, 7 and 8, occurred at 2:30 p.m. when a suspicious package was found in a men's room on the upper concourse level of Terminal 7, said airport spokeswoman Gaby Pacheco. The package was later identified as illegal fireworks.

The evacuation occurred about the same time Air Force One arrived at the airport, but authorities said the scare was not connected to the arrival of President Bush. The chief executive is visiting Los Angeles on a fund-raising mission, and his jet parked some distance from the main airport terminals, Pacheco said.

The three affected terminals were reopened shortly before 5:30 p.m. By that time, nine United flights had been delayed, affecting 1,500 passengers.

But about half an hour later, officials ordered the evacuation of the Tom Bradley terminal. Pacheco said the action was precautionary and based on information the airport had been given by police. Authorities would not elaborate on what that was. The terminal reopened about 7:30 p.m.

Marc Verhoven of Sydney, Australia, said authorities gave conflicting reasons for the delay of his flight to Auckland, New Zealand, attributing it first to the departure of Air Force One, which was to carry Bush to Crawford, Texas. Later, Verhoven said, travelers were told that a bag that had not cleared security had been loaded onto a plane.

Verhoven said he was worried about missing his connecting flight, but his wife, Nici, sympathized with authorities.

"My only concern is that it's safe," she said.

The evacuations left thousands of passengers milling behind yellow police tape. Even when police gave airport officials the all-clear sign, passengers were allowed to enter only in small groups so that security could screen them.

Outside the Bradley terminal, German citizen Agnieszka Jazdzewska, 28, complained that she was rushed through customs without her bags as part of the evacuation.

Jazdzewska, who had just arrived from Frankfurt, gave airport workers her address in hopes of seeing her bags again.

"Bombs are always a possibility. I know that they have to check," she said. "But the organization was no good, because we were outside the building. It was cold. We didn't have any water after an 11-hour flight."

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Associated Press contributed to this report.

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