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NEW DETAILS: Cold blast turns deadly

NEW DETAILS: Cold blast turns deadly

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WATERLOO — As record low temperatures brought life to a standstill Wednesday, the bitter cold was cited as a factor in the death of a University of Iowa student.

Sophomore Gerald Belz of Cedar Rapids was discovered unresponsive behind Halsey Hall on the University of Iowa campus at 2:48 a.m. Wednesday, according to a statement from the university. He was taken to the hospital and later died. No foul play was suspected, according to University of Iowa police.

“We are saddened to share we’ve lost a member of the Hawkeye family,” the university said in a prepared statement. “Our thoughts are with his family, friends and loved ones.”

The frigid conditions forced cancellation of Waterloo and Cedar Falls schools again today. Wind chill warnings remained in effect for the entire state through 10 this morning, and a wind chill advisory until noon.

The temperature at 8 a.m. Wednesday was minus 25, a new record low. The previous record low for Waterloo on Jan. 30 was minus 24, set in 1951.

The high for Waterloo on Wednesday was minus 12.

Temperatures Wednesday night and this morning were forecast to hit 32 below zero. The lowest temperature ever recorded for Waterloo is minus 34 degrees, set Jan. 16, 2009, and March 1, 1962. The record low for Jan. 31 — 27 below in 1918 — was likely to fall early this morning, even if the all-time record stands.

But things should gradually warm up today, with a high of minus two, and temperatures will climb into the 30s above zero and higher by the weekend.

“It will be interesting to see from tomorrow’s low to Saturday’s high, the temperature will go from 30-something below to the mid- to upper 30s, a 60 to 70 degree swing in a two-and-a-half day stretch,” said Mark Schnackenberg, chief meteorologist at KWWL TV.

Travel discouraged

Black Hawk County Sheriff’s deputies continue to warn against travel on county roads.

Gravel roads in the county are nearly impassible, and many blacktop roads were blocked by drifting snow, said Capt. Mark Herbst with the sheriff’s office.

County snow plows did not go out Wednesday or today, Herbst said, because hydraulic systems can break under the current temperatures.

Numerous motorists were stuck in snow or slid into ditches Tuesday night and Wednesday, Herbst said. On Wednesday morning all available patrol deputies were assisting stranded motorists, and there was a backlog of calls. One driver waited four hours for a wrecker.

Herbst said only one wrecker service was taking calls in rural Black Hawk County. The rest were grounded because diesel engines gel up in extreme cold.

In fact, disabled diesel trucks made up the bulk of the calls at Ray Mount Wrecker Service in Waterloo on Wednesday, according to manager Connie Griffin.

The service had around 125 calls, mostly for towing, by 11:30 a.m. Wednesday, “probably triple” the amount of calls on a normal day.

“Gelled-up diesel trucks is a lot of them,” Griffin said.

Service delays

In Cedar Falls, Mayor Jim Brown made the decision to close all city offices Wednesday. Cedar Falls postponed garbage collection for Wednesday and today.

The makeup day for Wednesday is Friday. Thursday’s collection will be made up on Monday, Feb. 4.

Waterloo City Hall remained opened, although short-staffed. Waterloo planned to continue garbage collection throughout the cold days, provided the equipment holds up.

The Black Hawk County Courthouse was open Wednesday, although the treasurer’s and recorder’s offices were closed.

Courier home delivery was delayed for some customers Wednesday and today for the safety of newspaper carriers.

“While we value consistent and timely delivery, our number one priority is safety — safety for our contractors and for our consumers,” said Courier Circulation Director Adam Bolander. “We have given our carriers the flexibility to deliver today’s product either today or with tomorrow’s publication based on their own personal preference.”

Businesses affected

Many Cedar Valley businesses were closed Wednesday, including Crossroads Center and College Square Mall.

Employers who were open saw higher levels of people calling in sick or whose cars wouldn’t start. Bertch Cabinets, which has locations in Waterloo, Jesup and Oelwein, offered its stranded employees rides to work, said human resources director Mitzi Tann.

But it was a woman motivated to make her Wednesday morning interview at Bertch despite transportation issues that impressed Tann.

“I knew I was taking a chance (scheduling an interview), but my thought was, if she showed up, she should be hired,” Tann said.

The woman called in to say her car wouldn’t start, but she would be in as soon as she got it running.

“And she was,” Tann said. “I thought that was delightful.”

Street clearing

Cold weather slowed Waterloo Street Department crews who braved the cold temperatures to remove snow from the central business district.

“We actually started (Tuesday) night at 6, and the first few hours were going pretty good,” said Public Works Director Randy Bennett. “Unfortunately with the temperatures we’ve had, we’ve had problems with equipment freezing and gelling up.”

There was not any more risk of a power outage in these temperatures than at any other time, said Midamerican Energy spokesperson Geoff Greenwood. The utility has suspended routine outdoor work until the dangerously cold weather passes.

“Our system is working really well right now and we are not experiencing any significant impacts on equipment; our concern is more with our employees,” Greenwood said. “It’s just very difficult for our crews to do their work outside and it can slow things down.”

For the dogs

And in a move as rare as the weather, staff at Cedar Bend Humane Society instructed its volunteers to not walk the dogs.

Instead, staff are taking the pups out for “short and sweet” potty breaks several times a day, said CBHS co-director Karla Beckman.

“It’s kind of fast and furious,” she said. “We usually encourage longs walks in the wooded area (behind the shelter), but in this weather you can only be out for so long. We have short-coated dogs we can put in jackets, but we’re still going to be worried about their feet.”

Staff writers Jeff Reinitz, Meta Hemenway-Forbes, Tim Jamison, Amie Steffen and Nancy Newhoff contributed to this article.

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