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US under Arctic-like deep freeze

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CHICAGO — A brutal cold wave brought temperatures lower than Antarctica to the American Midwest on Wednesday, grounding flights, closing schools and businesses and raising hypothermia fears for homeless residents.

It was colder than Alaska’s state capital and even colder than parts of Antarctica

Mail deliveries were suspended and people 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.

US media attributed at least five deaths since the weekend to the freezing conditions and a major snowstorm that preceded the blast of Arctic air currently gripping the region.

In Chicago, blocks of ice floated on the downtown river of America’s third-largest city and flames from gas burners heated regional commuter rail lines to keep them functioning.

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.

Forecasts predicted even colder conditions on Thursday.

“It feels like being close to dry ice,” Leon Gilbert, 31, told AFP. “I can feel my skin tighten up.”

More than 1,800 flights were canceled at Chicago’s two major airports, while rail operator Amtrak scrapped train services from its hub in the city.

The cause of the sub-zero chill affecting tens of millions of Americans was a swirl of Arctic air that broke away from the polar vortex that usually encircles the North Pole.

The National Weather Service said temperatures would remain 25 to 45 degrees below average through Thursday, with wind chill values as low as -25 to -55 degrees Fahrenheit (-32 to -48 Celsius).

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