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Midwest sees all-time low temperatures due to polar vortex

Extreme winter weather in the Midwest has left at least 15 people dead. Power outages and extreme stress on utility systems added to worries in Chicago and Detroit, while in Wisconsin, emergency shelters sought to offer the homeless refuge from the cold. A respite from the record-breaking deep freeze is expected this weekend, as the cold air moves east. Amna Nawaz has more on the weather crisis.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    For the American Midwest today, there's been little respite from the deep freeze. That is expected to come this weekend, as the polar air mass pushes on. But it leaves at least 15 dead and a long list of all-time low temperatures.

    Here's Amna Nawaz with more.

  • Woman:

    This is Appleton, Wisconsin. It's negative-22 degrees. It feels like negative-42.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Days of dangerous cold came to a head early this morning for much of the Midwest. In Northeastern Wisconsin, windchills of 43 below zero froze hot water in midair. In Illinois, a state-record-breaking minus-38 degrees in Mount Caroll, not counting the wind chill. In Houston, Minnesota, minus-37 degrees, negative-49 with the windchill.

    And, in Michigan, windchill readings in the negative-40s, compounded by a fire yesterday at a natural gas station north of Detroit.

  • Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, D-Mich.:

    We made it through the night.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Governor Gretchen Whitmer and Michigan's main natural gas utility had to ask people to turn thermostats down to 65 degrees.

    Automakers General Motors, Ford, Fiat-Chrysler, and other big energy users suspended production at 18 plants.

  • Garrick Rochow:

    The voluntary efforts and the curtailment efforts that dropped the load by about 10 percent was needed in order to be able to weather the peak that we saw this morning.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Meanwhile, crews scrambled to restore electric grids and gas lines elsewhere, including to some 60,000 customers who lost power around Chicago yesterday. The city had already frozen over, and Mayor Rahm Emanuel warned of a new storm.

  • Rahm Emanuel:

    With more snow on the way, we're not out of the woods yet.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    But most vulnerable to the long stretch of cold, thousands of homeless people across the region. In Madison, Wisconsin, First United Methodist Church has been running an emergency shelter since Monday.

    Karen Andro is in charge.

  • Karen Andro:

    In this kind of crisis, and it is a crisis, it really is akin to a hurricane, a tornado, a fire, losing your home. What's happening right now is that — conditions that are already stressed.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Andro says her group and others could use financial contributions, volunteers and shipments of hand warmers and blankets.

  • Karen Andro:

    Outerwear. We see people coming in with very ill-equipped outerwear, like the thin mittens, the thin cloth mittens, not in socks, the appropriate socks. So, I just all of that outerwear.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    And as the cold blast reaches the East Coast, officials from Washington to New York are urging caution.

  • Gov. Andrew Cuomo, D-N.Y.:

    For residents, stay inside, help your neighbor, clear your sidewalk, and stay safe.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Amna Nawaz.

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