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Subzero temps kill 3, flood St. Clair River

The Detroit News

The National Weather Service has issued a flood warning for southeastern St. Clair County through Sunday after an ice blockage on the St. Clair River caused the waterway to overflow its banks.

The ice flows and flooding are part of a continued deep freeze that could break a National Weather Service record on Saturday for the most consecutive days with temperatures below 20.

The National Weather Service in White Lake issued the flood warning at 1:58 pm. Thursday after reports of flooding along the St. Clair River in East China Township, according to National Weather Service Meteorologist Dave Kook.

“Water was covering some of the roads near the river and water was rising and threatening some of the homes,” Kook said Thursday evening. “It turns out there’s an ice blockage on the river (caused by) ice flowing into the river from Lake Huron, which is blocking the water from passing through the river.

“The Coast Guard is working on breaking it up with some of their cutters, but with north winds through Saturday, this is something that could happen again somewhere along the river within the next couple days."

The cold temperatures predicted for Saturday would break the record set in February 1979 for the most days in a row with temperatures below 20 degrees.

The National Weather Service has issued a wind chill warning for all of southeast Michigan through Saturday afternoon. Temperatures Friday night are expected to dip as low as minus 5, with wind chill values as low as minus 20. Saturday will be sunny and cold, with a high near 8 and a low of minus 1.

The bitter cold is believed responsible for three Metro Detroit deaths this week, including that of a 65-year-old in Shelby Township. Shelby Township Police said Thursday the woman walked away from her home in the 25 Mile and Shelby Road area Wednesday night. Officials said in a statement the woman suffered from dementia and mental illness.

A group effort helps get a motorist on the way through the snow and ice on Grand Boulevard in Detroit.

Police found her Thursday morning on the Macomb Orchard Bike Path near 24 Mile and Dequindre, a couple miles away from her home. Officers tried to revive her, but she had already succumbed to the cold.

An elderly Roseville woman was found frozen to death Tuesday on an elementary school playground, authorities said. The 96-year-old woman, who lived near the school, was found in a nightgown, robe, and slippers, Roseville police officials said. Police Chief James Berlin said the woman had recently been diagnosed with dementia and there were no signs of foul play.

Their deaths come days after the body of Dwayne Johnson, who Detroit police believe froze to death, was found Monday in front of Shady Grove Missionary Baptist Church on the city’s east side. The Wayne County Medical Examiner's Office has not yet released a cause of death.

On Friday and Saturday, the highs will reach just the mid to upper single digits, with lows expected around minus 4 degrees, according to the National Weather Service.

“With wind chills near negative 15 degrees, frostbite can set in in about 30 minutes if not properly dressed,” said Alex Manion, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in White Lake Township. “Those that live in Michigan know the drill. Covering up extremities, wearing multiple layers are vital to protecting yourself.

“This theme is going to continue through the end of the week.”

A warmup is expected Sunday with a high near 30, which is the average temperature in Metro Detroit for early January.

Michigan is not alone: a brutal winter storm dumped snow in Tallahassee, Florida, for the first time in nearly three decades before slogging up the Atlantic coast and smacking Southern cities with a rare blast of snow and ice. Forecasters warned that the system could soon strengthen into a “bomb cyclone” as it rolls up the East Coast, bringing hurricane-force winds, coastal flooding and up to a foot of snow.

AAA Michigan has issued an arctic air advisory encouraging people to keep at least a half-tank of gas in the car; postpone car washes until temps rise above freezing, and make sure car batteries are in good condition.

The cold weather prompted several schools and districts throughout Metro Detroit to close or dismiss early.

Officials with Grosse Pointe Public Schools determined the school district will be closed Friday, an uncommon move for the walkable district. The district did hold classes on Thursday, said Rebecca Fannon, a district spokeswoman.

“Not having busing, we have a lot of kids that walk or ride their bikes,” she said. “We try to make decisions in the best interest of the kids.”

Nina Hardiewich, the principal of Browning Elementary School in Sterling Heights, said she's hoping for Utica Community Schools to close Friday despite her having to work either way.

"It's too cold for the kids to stand out and wait for the bus; it becomes dangerous and some of the kids walk to school," Hardiewich said.

Ellis Singleton, of Detroit, looks at icicles formed outside a burned home after Detroit firefighters extinguished two house fires along Hazelwood Street on Wednesday, January 3, 2018.

Staff with Cass Community Social Services in Detroit have been busy checking on the homeless and transporting them to shelters. They drive the major thoroughfares, like Woodward and Gratiot, and pass out fliers with information on how to get a ride. Friday through Sunday they will be working with the city to distribute winter gear.

“People are ready to come in,” said Kevin Giles, who does mobile outreach for the nonprofit. “A lot of the shelters are full, but we find a place for them.”

The extreme cold hasn’t made an impact on requests to The Heat and Warmth Fund (THAW). Back-to-school and Christmas, he said, create more demands on THAW than the weather. Households stretched thin by seasonal expenses are more likely to have trouble with utility bills.

“There’s not really a direct correlation to low temperatures and shutoffs,” said chief operating officer Matthew Phillips. “If it’s 40 degrees, you have your furnace on. If it’s minus-40 degrees, you have your furnace on. The bill comes either way.”

THAW expects to help more than 22,000 Michigan households with heat and electricity bills in 2018, focusing on clients whose power has already been terminated or who have received shutoff notices.

The city of Detroit has several respite centers during the winter months with varying day and evening hours, including Adams Butzel Center at 10500 Lyndon, Butzel Family Center at 7737 Kercheval, Crowell Recreation Center at 19601 Lahser and the Northwest Activities Center at 18100 Meyers.

In response to the cold temperatures, Westland opened warming centers around the city Tuesday. The centers will remain open the rest of the week. The locations are the Jefferson Bares Community Vitality Center at 32150 Dorsey, William P. Faust Public Library at 6123 Central City Parkway and Westland Friendship Center at 1119 Newburgh.

The Kulick Community Center at 1201 Livernois Street in Ferndale will also act as a public warming center and will have extended hours Thursday and Friday 9:30 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Welcome Inn Day Warming Center at the Covenant Presbyterian Church in Southfield is also open during the week. Located at 21575 W. 10 Mile, its buses pick up at local churches that host overnights through winter from 7 a.m. until 8 p.m. Monday through Friday.