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Day 2 of Arctic temps not much better than first

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Updated: February 9, 2014 6:25AM



With more people braving the bitter cold Tuesday, problems on area highways were as bad, if not worse, than on Monday, and commuter train delays continued during the morning rush hour, though no trains serving the Southland were canceled.

Blowing snow diminished Tuesday, but icy conditions caused numerous spinouts and minor crashes along Interstates 80, 55, 57 and 355, according to Illinois State Police.

“It’s just as bad as (Monday). It’s been nonstop,” state police Sgt. Scott Angus said.

Meanwhile, the brutal cold was blamed in the Monday night death of an 80-year-old Blue Island man. Elias Contreras died at MetroSouth Medical Center in Blue Island at 9:15 p.m. Monday, according to the Cook County medical examiner’s office. An autopsy Tuesday found that Contreras, who lived in the 200 block of Olive Street, died of hypothermia, diabetes and heart disease, the office reported.

The official temperature at O’Hare International Airport hit zero at 1 p.m., ending 37 consecutive hours of subzero weather, according to the National Weather Service. And Wednesday’s high in the mid-teens is just the start of a warm-up. Thursday’s high will be in the mid-20s and Saturday’s high of 38 may cause some to break out their spring attire — along with an umbrella because rain is also forecast.

Chicago Public Schools were to reopen Wednesday, as well as all public schools in the Southland after a two-day extension of the winter break. Schools in the Chicago Archdiocese and Joliet Diocese also were expected to resume classes Wednesday.

But conditions remained very cold and challenging Tuesday. State police responded to 35 minor accidents in District 5 Tuesday morning. Trouble spots were along I-80 from I-355 to Harlem Avenue and on I-55 between Weber Road and Lemont, Angus said.

At the state police’s Chicago District, Trooper Patrick Kehoe said there were “plenty of crashes” during the morning hours, a few with personal injuries. The area around the interchange at I-80 and I-57 was particularly bad, he said.

With road salt unable to work in such cold, Frankfort police called for sand to be spread on LaGrange Road south of U.S. 30, where icy conditions caused a few minor accidents, Deputy Police Chief Kevin Keegan said.

Calls for roadside assistance also were nonstop for the AAA Chicago Motor Club, where spokeswoman Beth Mosher said Tuesday was worse than Monday. She said that in the Midwest, AAA has received an unprecedented 35,000 calls since Friday, with 12,000 of those in Illinois and northern Indiana.

“There are more people on the road now and lots of black ice,” Mosher said. “This is like no other situation we have encountered. We’ve had four times the call volume of a typical cold day.”

Calls, which ran the gamut from ditched cars to dead batteries, were being prioritized based on the level of emergency, she said.

The death of Contreras in Blue Island was the eighth in Cook County since October caused at least partly by cold weather, authorities said, though his was the first since the record-breaking cold snap descended on the Chicago area Sunday night.

Dr. Silvio Morales, medical director of emergency services at Silver Cross Hospital in New Lenox, said this has been a rough winter for his department.

“We’ve gone from a wave of influenza patients right into the snow and cold injuries,” he said, with most resulting from vehicle accidents and some cases of frostbite. “Frostbite can set in on your ears or the tip of your nose in as little as five or 10 minutes (in such frigid weather).”

About 800 customers in Frankfort Square were without power for nearly three hours late Tuesday morning when a lockout occurred at Benton Drive and Harlem Avenue, according to ComEd spokesman John Schoen.

The lockout — similar to a circuit breaker flipping in your house — happened at 11 a.m., and power was restored at 1:45 p.m., he said. Lockouts are a common cause of outages, and the cause of this one is under investigation, Schoen said.

“We do not know if it was weather related. Except for scattered outages, our system performed well in the last couple of days,” he said. “We have not had an increase in outages due to the weather.”

Also Wednesday, the Cook County Jail will resume inmate visitation and the normal discharge of inmates, both of which were put on hold during the two-day cold snap, according to the sheriff’s department.

On the Metra rail lines serving the Southland, service was noticeably better Tuesday, with only minor delays during the morning and evening commutes, according to Metra.

“Ridership jumped significantly (Tuesday),” spokeswoman Meg Reile said, adding that the latest information on track conditions and service problems would continue to be posted on Metra’s website, metrarail.com.

On Day 2 of the Southland’s impression of the Arctic, a few Metra commuters said they were getting used to the extreme cold. For Howard and Jean Simon, of Manhattan, Tuesday was their first day outside since the cold wave arrived, as they headed to downtown Chicago via train on business.

“Years ago, I worked downtown all the time, but the weather was never quite this bitter cold,” Jean said.

For her husband, it was his first Metra trip in more than 40 years. In the famous blizzard of 1967, Howard said he rode his snowmobile from his Blue Island home to Chicago.

“That’s for young people now. I’m taking the train today,” he said.

With schools closed for a second day this week, 11-year-old Olivia Daujatas was headed downtown to go to work with her mother, Dawn Daujatas.

“She’s a trooper. She’s been coming to work with me on her days off since she was 2. My boss is really good about that. He brings his kids, too,” Daujatas said.

Olivia was looking forward to it, she said through the scarf wrapped around her face, adding that “they put me to work.”

In Tinley Park, resident Dan Strahan waited until the thermometer finally crept above zero on Tuesday before taking his basset hound, Max, for a walk.

“Both of us have just been going crazy cooped up inside with the cold, and I didn’t want to be outside with him (the dog) very long,” Strahan said. “I know it’s only going to be in the teens (Wednesday), but that’s better than what we’ve been through.”

Working parents — many of whom worked from home or not at all on Monday — may have scrambled to find child care Tuesday as schools remained closed but more businesses were open. By 10:30 a.m., there were already 13 kids playing at the New Lenox Community Park District’s Lions Community Center — twice as many as on Monday.

“We’re more dedicated than the postal service,” declared Kathy Heath, coordinator of the park district’s ACES program — All Children Enjoy School, which Heath dubbed Tuesday as All Children Enjoy Snow.

On school days, the ACES program is held at all four campuses in New Lenox District 122, offering child care before and after school for working parents. But on snow days and school holidays, they are open all day at the community center, Heath said.

“On these days, we never know what to expect, so we send all our staff there at 6:15 a.m. Due to the fact that the high schools are closed and college kids are home for break, most people did not need care (Tuesday), but we would rather be safe than sorry,” recreation supervisor Jean Petrow said. “It’s convenient having a secondary option for child care,” said John Garbaciak, as he dropped off his daughter, Amanda, on Tuesday, after working from home on Monday. “They do a great job. They do fun things. It’s really convenient.”

Contributing: Tina Akouris, Cindy Wojdyla Cain, Mike Nolan and Casey Toner



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