Winter blast has some residents struggling to keep heat on

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Another day of subzero windchills in the Chicago area has some residents looking for help in paying their winter bills.

Chicago's latest arctic blast can be dangerous and elected officials, community organizations and even local utilities are getting together to help people who are having trouble staying warm.

Lawrence Griffin braved the cold Saturday morning hoping to get some help staying warm. After a surgery last year and a job loss, the 61-year-old senior fell behind on his electric bill, owed over $600 and was facing disconnection, until Saturday.

"Finances weren't cutting the bills, so I ended up here," he said.

At this year's Winter Resource Utility Assistance Day, those struggling to keep their lights or gas service going can get answers.

"We have found that our seniors sometime won't use their heat because they're afraid of the cost and so they have to decide, 'Am I going to pay my heat my home or get my medication?'" said event organizer Cherita Logan.

The free town hall-style event took place at Malcolm X College on Chicago's Near West Side.

"We always come for help and they always help us because we're on no income," said Yasmin Ruiz.

CEDA, the Community and Economic Development Association, hopes to sign up as many people as they can before their heat assistance program ends March 31.

"Help them get by a little bit easier from day to day," said Nicole Ward, CEDA.

Representatives from Peoples' Gas and ComEd were on hand offering ways to restore service or keep it from being cut off.

"We have funds available made by the smart grid law," said Jennifer Montague, ComEd. "We have $50 million over a five year period."

By the afternoon, there was a steady flow of attendees looking for help, including Karen Williams, who also got some peace of mind.

"It's a relief being able to get help," she said.

The city also reminds residents having difficulty staying warm to call 311. The city also has warming centers for those who need a warm place to be.

RUNNERS NOT DETERRED BY FRIGID TEMPS

Hundreds of runners gathered Saturday for the 15-mile Polar Dash despite the frigid cold temperatures. Race officials advised everyone to dress appropriately.

"My feet are a little cold but I have layers on, so I should be ok," said Jovonna Bush, a Polar Dash runner.

"I have to think in my mind that it's hot," said Renita Clark, a Polar Dash runner. "It's not cold, it's hot. And today is my birthday, my friend got me out here on my 45th birthday to run this race."

DEEP FREEZE CAUSES TRAVEL PROBLEMS

However, the deep freeze has caused problems for many residents and travelers in the Chicago area.

Earlier Saturday morning, the Kankakee River overflowed causing some immediate freezing and black ice. Salt trucks were on-hand to help with slick conditions.

At O'Hare International Airport, cold temperatures Friday caused underground fuel system lines at gates to freeze, meaning that tanker trucks had to fuel the planes. This caused 16 flight cancellations and several delays. American Airlines said the line has been fixed as of Saturday morning.

At Union Station, for the second time this week, a broken sprinkler pipe sent water pouring down because of the cold, flooding part of the south concourse Friday.

"So we had to close part of the concourse for about a half hour, that forced us to re-route a lot of our riders to different pedestrian routes, caused a little bit of congestion," said Michael Gillis, Metra spokesperson.

At the Forever 21 store on Michigan Avenue in the city's Magnificent Mile, water was pouring inside the store because of a broken pipe.

All three floors of the DuPage Children's Museum in Naperville were inundated with water as well.


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