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'We're not out of the woods yet': Ten people now confirmed dead in US cold snap

At least eight people have died in the polar vortex with the fear of hypothermia rising.

Updated Jan 31st 2019, 10:43 PM

Minnesota Fire A firefighter in St. Paul, Minnesota Source: David Joles/PA Images

BRUTALLY COLD TEMPERATURES gripped the US Midwest again today, freezing water mains, causing power outages, canceling flights and straining natural gas supplies.

Tens of millions of Americans shivered for a second day as the mercury dipped to record lows in several states.

Ten deaths have been attributed to the sub-zero weather and a weekend snowstorm that deluged the same region. Many of the cold-related fatalities were in Michigan, where the governor said the death toll was still being confirmed.

Schools and businesses remained closed in several midwestern states, people were encouraged to stay home, and travelers were stranded by grounded flights and halted trains.

Natural gas supplies were under threat in Michigan and Minnesota. Authorities asked residents to reduce heat consumption wherever possible and decreased heating in government buildings.

Water mains froze in Detroit, Chicago and parts of Canada and power outages were reported in Iowa and Wisconsin.

Nearly 1,700 flights had been cancelled in Chicago by this afternoon. Airport crews worked in 15-minute increments on the tarmac to avoid frostbite.

Amtrak planned to begin restoring service to some trains after canceling all lines yesterday in and out of Chicago.

The deadly, sub-zero temperatures were expected to lift Friday, but the misery would not end quickly in the roughly dozen states most affected.

U.S.-CHICAGO-TEMPERATURE-COLDEST-RECORD-BREAKING A Chicago Fire Department boat is seen outside the docks in between the Chicago River and Lake Michigan Source: Patrick Gorski/Xinhua/PA Images

“We are not done yet. We’ve got another 24 hours where the weather will be at dangerous levels,” Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer told a news conference.

The National Weather Service (NWS) said temperatures would slowly moderate, but the agency forecast wind chills Thursday would remain between -29 to -46 Celsius over parts of the Upper Midwest.

The cold has frozen sections of Niagara Falls and sent blocks of ice floating down the river winding through Chicago’s downtown.

More snow to come

The Arctic air mass that descended from its usual northern rotation on Wednesday caused the second coldest day ever recorded in the Windy City, where residents reported hearing “frost quakes”.

Local television station WGN said booms heard by residents were likely frozen, water-saturated ground cracking under their feet.

The NWS said a low temperature of -29C was recorded in Chicago this morning. The record low of -33C was on 20 January 1985.

It said a historic low temperature for Illinois of -39C had been reported in the town of Mt Carroll and was being reviewed before being declared a state record.

Record low temperatures were also reported in some towns in Iowa and Wisconsin.

Winter Weather The sun rises along the shore of Lake Michigan at Montrose Harbor Source: Kiichiro Sato/PA Images

Officials in multiple states warned that the extreme weather should be taken seriously, with the risk of hypothermia and frostbite setting in within minutes of exposure.

There were also concerns over another round of snow late today, after a weekend snowstorm inundated the areas now frozen by Arctic cold.

“We’ve gone from snow to freezing temperatures, wind chill,” Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said at a news conference. “With more snow on the way, we’re not out of the woods yet.”

Hundreds of warming centers were opened for vulnerable residents such as seniors, and shelter capacities increased for the homeless.

Among the 10 reported dead this week was an 18-year-old University of Iowa student.

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He was found unresponsive behind a campus building Wednesday morning, when wind chill temperatures in Iowa City were -46C, according to local TV station KCCI.

Calls for conservation

IL: Chicago Frigid Temperatures Scenes of a frozen Chicago Source: SIPA USA/PA Images

While officials warned residents to remain on guard as long as the sub-zero weather persisted, authorities in Michigan and Minnesota were also asking them to turn down their thermostats to conserve natural gas.

Supplies were strained due to high demand from home heaters and from a fire at a natural gas compressor station in Michigan, officials said.

“This is not over until noon tomorrow. And we are asking people to continue to keep the thermostat down,” Michigan Governor Whitmer said.

General Motors and Fiat Chrysler suspended or curtailed operations at more than a dozen facilities in Michigan to conserve natural gas, the companies said.

City crews braved sub-zero weather to repair a number of frozen water main breaks that plagued Motor City neighborhoods.

Chicago reported 22 broken water mains, 16 of which had already been repaired.

America’s northern neighbor Canada was also contending with extreme cold, with frozen water pipes, snarled travel on a major waterway, and temperatures as low as -40C yesterday.

© AFP 2019  

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