deep freeze grips US Midwest –

CHICAGO: A brutal cold wave moved eastward on Thursday after bringing temperatures in the US Midwest lower than those in Antarctica, grounding flights, closing schools and businesses and raising fears of hypothermia.
The extreme weather has now been blamed for as many as eight deaths, US news outlets reported.
Mail deliveries were suspended and people were encouraged to stay home in nearly a dozen US states where the mercury plunged into the negative double digits, the worst freeze to grip the region in a generation.
The phenomenon stemming from a blast of Arctic air caused surreal scenes throughout the region, such as steam rising off the waters of Lake Michigan — the result of extremely cold air passing over warmer water below. Parts of Niagara Falls solidified into frozen stillness, and blocks of ice covered the river winding through downtown Chicago.
America’s third city was in the direct path of the harsh weather and experienced its second-coldest day ever. Chicago was on track to break new records overnight when temperatures were forecast to reach their lowest points in the early hours on Thursday.
“This is a historic cold, obviously,” Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel told a Wednesday night news conference.
“They are life-threatening temperatures, and they should be treated accordingly,” he cautioned.
The morning temperature in the Windy City was -22 degrees Fahrenheit (-30 Celsius), which felt like -50 degrees (-46 Celsius) with wind chill. It was colder than Alaska’s state capital and even colder than parts of Antarctica.
“It feels like being close to dry ice,” Leon Gilbert, 31, said. “I can feel my skin tighten up.” Unlike most Chicago residents, Gilbert was required to report to his job at a Starbucks on a downtown street largely devoid of its usual bustle of people and traffic.
Sandwich shop manager Daniel Gonzalez, 37, also reported to work —at 5 am. “I have two shirts on… I have a hoodie, I have my big winter coat, and a skullcap and still cold,” he said.
At Chicago’s O’Hare airport, a major regional hub for airlines, ground crews struggled with freezing equipment and were told to avoid spending more than 15 minutes at a time exposed to the cold, causing delays for flights that managed to take off.
More than 1,800 flights were cancelled at Chicago’s two major airports, while rail operator Amtrak scrapped train services from its hub in the city. — AFP