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Deadly cold shocks South; Longview shelters mostly filled

From Staff and Wire Reports
Jan. 3, 2018 at 12:01 a.m.

Sherlin Galicia, left, Alexander Galicia and Heidi Galicia play on the iced-over pond at Overton Park  in Memphis, Tenn., while walking their dog Tuesday afternoon. The ice  had become a couple inches thick on the pond after several nights of subfreezing temperatures, which are expected to continue through the week.

Bitterly cold temperatures gripped much of the nation Tuesday, testing the mettle of even winter-wise Northerners and delivering a shock to those accustomed to far milder weather in the South.

The arctic cold had been blamed for at least a dozen deaths, prompted officials to open warming centers in the Deep South and triggered pleas from government officials to check on neighbors, especially those who are elderly, sick or who live alone.

In Longview, Hiway 80 Rescue Mission said all bunks were full and about three dozen people were sleeping on the floor, while other shelters were at capacity.

"Right now, we are housing 142" men, Paco Mancilla, evening supervisor at Hiway 80, said Tuesday night. "All of our bunks are filled up, and I've got 30 people on the floor."

At House of Hope Shelter, Helen Johnson said four or five women had arrived at the shelter since late last week, and staff had distributed 60 meals Monday to people staying in motels and nearby woods. The shelter stays at capacity at 72 women, she said, while no one is turned away.

The Salvation Army was 40 percent full Tuesday, said Keith Gibson, shelter manager. It has a capacity of 58 people.

All three shelters said they were prepared for any situation that would see their numbers increase.

"We just have extra cots that we can put them on," Johnson said. "We are prepared with extra food and extra cots and extra blankets and clothes."

At Hiway 80, Mancilla said, "We are trying to keep up with mats and blankets" so the men do not have to sleep on the bare floor. "We are definitely preparing more food."

Newgate Mission, on South Mobberly Avenue, has extended its open hours to 5 p.m. through the cold spell to provide a place for people to stay warm until the overnight shelters open, Executive Director Hollie Bruce said. Newgate opens at 7 a.m. for coffee and worship.

"We are showing movies and trying to have extra activities in the late afternoon," she said.

As many as 250 people visit the mission during the day, Bruce said, with the numbers affected in part with children being on winter break.

"We are not used to this (weather) here in East Texas," she said. "We have basically just loosened a lot of rules."

Broad warnings

The National Weather Service issued wind chill advisories and freeze warnings covering a vast area, from South Texas to Canada and from Montana to Maine. The arctic blast was blamed for freezing a water tower in Iowa, halting a ferry service in New York and even trapping a swan in a Virginia pond.

Meanwhile, a heat wave swept into the country's northernmost state. Anchorage, Alaska, tied a record high Tuesday of 44 degrees.

At the same time Tuesday, the temperature in Jacksonville, Florida, was a mere 38 degrees.

Indianapolis Public Schools canceled classes after the city tied a record low for the day — set in 1887 — of minus 12 degrees. The Northwest Indiana city of Lafayette got down to minus 19 degrees, shattering the previous record set in 1979.

Many residents noticed a hum, which Duke Energy said was caused by extra power surging through utility lines to meet electricity demands.

Though temperatures have been lower in Indiana — the all-time low was minus 36 in 1994 — the current frigid weather is unusual because of how long it's lasted, experts said.

"It has just been relentlessly cold since Christmas," said Jeff Masters, meteorology director of the private Weather Underground.

At least 12 dead

And it's nothing to trifle with, forecasters warned.

The cold had been blamed in at least 12 deaths in the past week.

Police in St. Louis said a 54-year-old homeless man found dead in a trash bin Monday evening apparently froze to death as the temperature dropped to negative 6 degrees.

Two other suspected cold-related deaths occurred in Wisconsin: a 27-year-old woman's body was found Monday evening on the shore of Lake Winnebago, and a 57-year-old man was found dead Sunday in a parking structure in Madison.

With Chicago-area wind chills expected as low as negative 35 degrees, forecasters warned of frostbite and hypothermia risks. They urged residents to take precautions, including dressing in layers, wearing a hat and gloves, covering exposed skin and bringing pets indoors.

"You thought you were cold last year. You thought you were cold last month. But you weren't cold. Now, you're cold," said Jeanne Rivera of Crystal Lake, Illinois, who was in Chicago on Tuesday to visit an art exhibit. "It hurts. It hurts the face."

In Texas, advocates for the homeless fanned out Tuesday across Houston to provide blankets and other warm gear as the National Weather Service issued a hard freeze warning until today for parts of the state.

Hypothermia treatment

Atlanta hospitals were seeing a surge in emergency room visits for hypothermia and other ailments as temperatures plunged below freezing. The temperature in Atlanta fell to 13 degrees before dawn Tuesday.

"We have a group of patients who are coming in off the street who are looking to escape the cold — we have dozens and dozens of those every day," said Dr. Brooks Moore, associate medical director in the emergency department of Grady Health System, which operates Georgia's largest hospital in Atlanta.

Warming shelters opened amid freeze watches and warnings in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.

In Savannah, Georgia — where January's average high is 60 degrees — the temperature hovered at 30 at noon Tuesday. It was cold enough for icicles to dangle from the ornate wrought-iron fountain in Forsyth Park at the edge of the city's downtown historic district.

The city could see up to 2 inches of snow and sleet today. That would be the first measurable snow since February 2010.

"I've never seen icicles in Savannah, period," said Sean Dempsey, a local restaurant manager who wore a hat, gloves and a thick coat to walk his dogs Tuesday. "I'm pretty sure last year at New Year's lots of families were in the park playing catch, Frisbee football and stuff like that."

One area of reprieve: Phoenix, where residents wore short-sleeved shirts and flip-flops as temperatures topped out in the 70s.

"Don't let the people on the East Coast know how nice the weather is here today," said Mark O'Malley, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Phoenix.

— This story includes information from staff writer Ken Hedler and The Associated Press.

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