Dangerous wind chills grip Chicago

People in need of help urged to call 311
January 15, 2009 2:30:25 PM PST
It is the coldest weather this winter season.Wind chill warnings are in effect as people bundle up to protect against this dangerous cold.

Hundreds of schools across the state were closed for the day.

Despite the bitter cold, Chicago Public Schools were open.

The city is asking people to take advantage of warming centers if they need them.

Dangerous temperatures and wind chills are causing steam to rise from the Chicago River.

Wind chills were so low it felt like it was thirty below.

Thursday was the day to wear the heaviest coat you own.

Lake Michigan looked beautiful on Thursday afternoon. It's a view that's better seen on television instead of in person. No one wants to be outside in this kind of cold but some don't have much of a choice.

Officer Tom Palma has been a beat cop with the Chicago Police Department for almost eight years.

"In the summertime, I've got the best job in the city. And this is the time of year where I really earn my money," said Palma.

Regardless of the weather, when he's on the job Officer Palma patrols the South Loop area on foot. He walks the streets and walks the alleys helping people out, and looking for trouble makers.

"There are still people up to no good and you have to keep an eye on everybody. And as long as you don't get distracted by your discomfort, you're able to stay aware of what's going on around you and keep an eye on everything," said Palma.

In fact, hundreds of city workers are outside on the job on Thursday. The Department of Streets and Sanitation has crews out repairing hundreds of potholes. There is no doubt they have plenty of work to do.

Meanwhile, workers for Com Ed are trouble shooting all over the city. And let's not forget about the Chicago firefighters. Just because it's cold, doesn't mean they get the day off. As for advice? Officer Ed Schrey has been a beat cop with the CPD for the last 25 years. He takes his doctors advice and stays hydrated.

"You start to feel yourself getting cold and chilled it means you're dehydrated. So don't drink coffee or tea which will make it worse. Start drinking water or Gatorade or something like that to replenish your fluids," said Schrey.

Officer Schrey says it's cold this year but not as bad as the winter of 1984.

"It was so cold that year, they gave us permission to write tickets in pencil because our pens froze," said Schrey.

Well-being checks

The colder it gets, the more often workers from Chicago's Department of Human Services visit lower Wacker Drive to gently persuade the homeless who have set up camp to seek shelter indoors.

Fonta Wright is taking them up on their offer. But a few others decided to stay.

"It's cold out here tonight. I'm just trying to get some shelter and stay warm tonight," said Wright.

The CDHS is also making house calls, following up on requests for well-being checks phoned into the 311 center by concerned family and friends.

The workers found one family who was using propane to stay warm and convinced them to turn it off.

"They're using alternative heat sources which is not real safe, but we offered them shelter and they don't want to leave their hosue," said Laurie Goldman, Chicago Dept. of Human Services.

Another check, phoned in by an elderly woman's church member, found the woman safe at home.

"She was doing fine. She was at home with her her son watching TV. You could see she had electricity and heat," said Luis Munoz, Chicago Dept. of Human Services.

City officials urged people to stay indoors and avoid the bitter cold. But people still seemed drawn to Michigan Avenue on Wednesday night.

For Oscar Kouka, being outdoors is his bread and butter since he works an eight hour shift as a walking billboard.

"I knew it was going to be this cold, but I have to do what I have to do," said Kouka.

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.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.