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Nine dead as sustained subzero temps hit Midwest

By Nicholas Sakelaris and Danielle Haynes
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Ash Cave in Hocking Hills State Park is covered with ice on Wednesday. Photo courtesy of Ohio State Parks/Twitter
Ash Cave in Hocking Hills State Park is covered with ice on Wednesday. Photo courtesy of Ohio State Parks/Twitter

Jan. 30 (UPI) -- Frigid temperatures have been blamed for at least nine deaths in the Midwest this week, forecasters said.

The polar vortex that swept in from the north has gripped several states in subzero temperatures not seen in a generation. Thermometers were projected to fall 20 degrees below zero, and colder in some places.

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States of emergency have been issued in Wisconsin, Illinois and Michigan and many schools and businesses are closing until the weather warms.

"Historic cold, unprecedented cold, these are all adjectives you could use to describe this," NBC meteorologist Kathryn Prociv said. "These are some of the coldest temperatures an entire generation has ever felt, talking about the millennials."

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Nearly 90 million people are expected to experience temperatures at or below zero. Of those, 25 million could see temperatures of 20 degrees below zero with wind chills in some areas going as low as minus 50. Wind chills are so cold that exposed skin can get frostbite in a matter of minutes.

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At least nine people have died related to the cold and weather conditions, officials said.

An 82-year-old man died of hypothermia in Pekin, Ill., Tuesday. In Milwaukee County, Wis., a man froze to death in a garage after shoveling snow. In Libertyville, Ill., a man was struck by a snow plow at the end of his driveway. A 31-year-old driver died when he hit a light pole on Interstate 80 near Des Moines, Iowa, -- police said he was driving too fast for the winter conditions. And a 9-year-old boy died in a crash on an icy Interstate 80 in Nebraska.

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In Michigan, a 70-year-old man who wasn't dressed for the cold weather was found dead outside and another man was found dead without gloves or a hat near his neighbor's house. In Indiana, a married couple, one of whom was a Ligonier police officer, died when they lost control of their vehicle and spun into oncoming traffic.

More than 1,500 arrivals and departures scheduled for Wednesday were canceled at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago and another 320 were canceled at Midway International. All Amtrak trains in and out of Chicago have been canceled, and crews lit local rail tracks on fire to keep the cold from warping them.

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Cancellations and delays also affected flights in and out of Buffalo Niagara International, St. Louis Lambert International, LaGuardia, Minneapolis/St. Paul International and Reagan International airports.

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The cold even led the U.S. Postal Service to suspend mail deliveries in Minnesota, western Wisconsin, Iowa and western Illinois.

In Chicago, Lyft announced it would offer free rides to any warming shelter in the city up to $25. The offer is good for two free rides and is valid through Friday.

The Chicago Parks Department put together a list of warming centers in the city.

On Wednesday, the winter storm is expected to bring snow and subzero wind chills to the Northeast. New York City is bracing for lows in the single digits Wednesday and by Thursday, the high will only be in the teens. Wind chills will be below zero throughout New York City.

Boston is preparing for a snow squall, a brief but intense snowfall that acts much like a fast-moving thunderstorm. Visibility can drop to zero within minutes and they can dump several inches of snow in minutes. Boston will be spared the worst of the polar vortex as it passes to the north but some areas of Massachusetts could dip below zero Thursday and Friday.

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The bone-chilling cold could be especially deadly for the homeless. In Wisconsin, officer Kraig Kalka spent much of his shift handing out blankets and hand warmers to people living on Madison's streets.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel set up warming buses that will travel the streets Wednesday to give homeless a place to escape the cold. The city added 500 shelter beds while religious leaders made welfare checks on seniors.

"Every one of us has a role to check on somebody who is maybe a neighbor on the block who is elderly, infirm or needs extra help," Emanuel said Tuesday. "If you don't need to be outside, don't go outside. The temperatures today, tomorrow and Thursday are not to be taken lightly. These are actually a public health risk, and you need to treat it appropriately."

In Detroit, homeless shelters, soup kitchens and nonprofits that help the homeless were maxed out Wednesday.

"The phone is ringing off the hook," said Eneida Hajiou, the development director with the Macomb County Rotating Emergency Shelter Team in Roseville, Mich. "There is not enough space for all the homeless suffering out there now."

The Bishop Dudley House in Sioux Falls, S.D., doesn't want to turn away anyone.

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"We will find a spot for people to come in," development coordinator Amanda Stidd said.

Residents in Thief River Falls, Minn., were still living their lives as normal where temperatures hit 25 degrees below zero Tuesday morning and a wind chill of 58 degrees below zero.

"It's just a cold snap," said Mayor Brian Holmer, owner of Michael's Meats. "Right now I look out and there's cars driving up and down the streets, people are still coming and doing their normal thing. Everybody's got to eat, especially in the winter time."

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