Subzero temps grip Chicago area

People in need of help urged to call 311
January 16, 2009 9:20:54 AM PST
Temperatures may drop to 25 below in parts of the Chicago area on Thursday night. That's the coldest weather we've seen in more than a decade.

The air temperature got down to 24 degrees below zero early on Thursday morning in Aurora. And it looks like we're just getting started.

The double digit deep freeze is on. It's hard to bare if you have to be in it for a minute - even more brutal if you work in it.

"You're freezing, you can't move, hands are numb but you still have to do it. It's a job you know," said Laith Alkhawaldh, tow truck driver.

On Thursday night, Alkhawaldh was the savior for dozens of stranded motorists whose cars and their components were no match for Mother Nature.

"Her car broke down, she was freezing and the gentleman came down and did a nice job getting here quick," Brandon Nunnink whose girlfriend got stranded.

"We get double booked when the weather is like this so if we get 50 calls a day, now we get 100," said Alkhawaldh.

In Evanston, an underground water line was crushed by the cold. It sent water pouring onto Old Orchard Road where it quickly began to freeze.

In Aurora, the city's only homeless shelter is serving 170 people, well beyond capacity. It provides tight quarters for this family of five.

"Complaining about my kids, they need to be quiet. And no running around. Sit in the chairs. And it's impossible when you have a 2-year-old and you have kids that are hyper. They have to stay in one area. And it's hard," said Jessica Bommelman, Aurora resident.

It's just another day on the job for employees of an ice company in Chicago where the freezer temperature is 34 degrees 'warmer' than the air outside.

"We used to joke when I first started it was warmer in the freezer than outside. I didn't believe them. After working here a few years, I believe them," said a worker.

Suburban shelter gives refuge to many

Normally, the clients of Hesed House in Aurora have to be out of the shelter between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. But not when it is lethal to be outside.

Twenty-three year-old Jessica Bommelman watches over her flock of four - Adam, Makayla, Caitlin and little Thomas - and ponders her home for the last three weeks.

With temperatures at levels that will freeze exposed skin in ten minutes or less, Aurora's streets are as empty as they're pretty. The Fox River steams but so far no ice jams that can cause flooding have been reported. But the shelter is bursting - like last night - all 135 beds for men, women and children will be filled on Thursday night.

It really highlights the need in a way that you realize that if someone is not inside today, they will not survive. They will freeze to death. It's not a question of they might or might not, they will today. And that really highlights, it brings it to a whole new level," said Ryan Dowd, Exec. Director, Hesed House.

Aurora's cold snap has the mayor, who is heading off tomorrow to President-elect Barack Obama's inauguration concerned.

"It's a tough situation for people that are on the margins. And I think with the national economy the way it is, it's even tougher in a sense. And there's a lot more people that are in tough times. And it's really incumbent upon all of us, I think, to be thinking about those folks. I know we as a city, our social services are all very active. But all of us have to be a little bit concerned. Because it doesn't take long to freeze to death in this kind of weather," said Mayor Thomas J. Weisner, Aurora.

Inside the homeless shelter, there is a sense of fellowship. As people realize that even under these kinds of extraordinary temperatures, you all have to pull together when the temperatures fall the way they have. And everyone simply has to come inside. And everybody is seemingly taking care of each other, especially the children.

How to get help

The city is emphasizing the availability of help for you or someone you may know who may need shelter from this dangerously cold weather. If you or someone you know needs help, call 311 and check on seniors to make sure their heating is working properly. If you do have to go out, wear layers.

For a complete list of warming centers in Illinois, visit www.keepwarm.illinois.gov/warmingcenter.cfm .You can also find cold weather saftey tips at http://egov.cityofchicago.org.


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