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Chicago handles extreme cold like no other city

A coordinated effort of at least 11 agencies

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“This is a historic cold, but Chicagoans are historically strong,” said Mayor Rahm Emanuel at a press conference Wednesday night with at least 11 other leaders from city departments, agencies and emergency services next to him.

For many of us, the weather has felt like a stand still. But there are people working around the clock to make sure vulnerable homeless and elderly people are safe, that our transit system is working, and that buildings are properly heated.

While the coldest day is behind us, there still is weather ahead that is extreme. There is still a dangerous windchill and snow is coming at the end of the week.

Residents are reminded to check in on each other and use 311 if they need city services. No one will be left out in the cold, if you need to be picked up and brought somewhere warm—the city will do that if you call 311.

“All hands are on deck until temperatures improve this weekend,” said Rich Guidice, the newly appointed Executive Director of Office of Emergency Management and Communications.

That is particularly true when it comes to the Chicago Transit Authority, which had next to no major delays due to the extreme weather. Throughout the day the trains were running all day on all lines without any major incidents, said Dorval Carter, president of the CTA. The delays that they did have were not unexpected and related more to signal and track problems.

“The CTA service went well particularly given the extreme conditions we were facing,” Carter said. “We were able to put out service that many other U.S. cities would not have been able to do.”

Carter also gave a shoutout to New York’s transit workers at MTA for sending pizzas on Wednesday to fellow CTA workers for braving the icy Arctic air. The mayor also showed up on Thursday with bags of McMuffins and hashbrowns from McDonald’s for CTA workers at the Kedzie garage.

Metra on the other hand, had significant delays and suspended some lines. However, the staff is working just as hard to get the massive, older commuter trains to run. One way in extreme cold is to switch on flaming gas-fired heaters that make it look like the tracks are burning.

The city is watching out for vulnerable people and taking care of homeless people by adding 500 extra beds to shelters, extending hours at warming centers and making two of them 24-hour emergency centers. Find information on the warming centers locations here.

The Department of Family and Support Services runs the six warming centers all winter, which are typically just open during the week with one location operating 24-hours, 7 days a week. DFSS partnered with Lyft and Uber so people could get a free ride to warming centers if needed. Use the code CHIJAYDEN19 with Lyft through Friday night and use DFSS with Uber through Thursday night to any warming center in the city.

The city has also created a map of the 270 warm places people can seek shelter which includes libraries, park field houses, government offices, churches and community centers. Many places have extended hours during the week and a few churches have decided to stay open overnight to serve their communities.

Five buses are traveling through the city to provide warmth, hot drinks and necessary items like socks to homeless people who may not want to stay in shelters overnight. There will also be five buses at O’Hare.

Although many people are staying indoors away from the dangerous cold, it’s important to keep warm safely. An oven is not a proper way to heat a home, remind the Chicago Fire Department. On Wednesday, firefighters responded to a call where a propane tank had exploded in a homeless camp near Willis Tower. About a dozen tanks were donated which the firefighters had to confiscate for safety issues, leaving the group without any heat. However, a good Samaritan bought hotel rooms for the 70 people through the week, according to the Chicago Tribune.

The extreme weather has closed businesses, restaurants, offices, schools, and even the Cook County circuit court on Wednesday and Thursday. However, that isn’t stopping the Department of Buildings from fining landlords $500 per day for Heat Ordinance violations, said Judy Frydland of Department of Buildings. On Wednesday, the city went to six properties to relocate families and start making repairs to buildings.

There are countless other people throughout the city working to make sure people have necessary information, emergencies managed, and warm places to go. The extreme, life-threatening temperatures are much different than a storm system leaving us with a foot of snow. But our city’s resilient response is the same, if not more impressive.