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MSP travel backed up by Chicago air traffic control center fire

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Hundreds of flights were delayed or cancelled at Chicago airports Friday morning due to a deliberately set fire in a major air traffic control facility, Chicago's WLS-TV reports. More than 60 those flights were between the Windy City and the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport, according to records for MidwayO'Hare and MSP airports from FlightTracker.com.

According to the Chicago Tribune, police say the fire was not an act of terrorism, but rather a "local issue with a contract employee." The paper says the suspect was found in the basement of the Aurora, Illinois, FAA facility with burns and self-inflicted wounds. He was transported to a local hospital where he's receiving treatment.

Problems for Minnesota travelers

Effects of the fire quickly made their way to Minnesota. Chicago is the number one destination from MSP International, and by early afternoon, 22 flights to Midway or O'Hare aiports were cancelled, the Star Tribune reports.

"For people who are going to Chicago, just to connect with other cities, they may be able to reschedule and go another route," an airport spokesman told the Pioneer Press. "But if Chicago is their destination city, right now, there is no way to fly to or from Chicago."

One flight headed to Chicago from St. Cloud was cancelled as well, according to the St. Cloud Times.

Travelers heading to the Twin Cities from Chicago on Friday are having an even tougher time. ABC News reports 446 flights were cancelled out of O'Hare and Midway airports including dozens that were headed to MSP. Southwest Airlines already cancelled all of its flights to and from Chicago's Midway airport until noon, according to Chicago's WABC 7.

Delays ripple across the country

Chicago's O'Hare airport, which is a hub for both United and American Airlines, is one of the busiest in the country, according to data released by the FAA, and cancellations there could cause a domino effect through the nation's air travel network. As TIME explains, one problem for a major area like Chicago will cause delays and route changes across the U.S., even among flights that don't cross the area in question.

The Wall Street Journal reports the evacuated FAA facility handles high altitude flights to, from and over Chicago, creating a gaping hole in the nation's air traffic maps:

Flights in the region were resuming at a reduced rate by mid-morning, Chicago's WBBM reports.

KSTP was at the airport this morning and spoke to some frustrated passengers.

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