Deep freeze poses dangers for NY area residents

December 15, 2010 2:11:59 PM PST
The New York area and half of the country continue to struggle against the deep freeze Wednesday.

The low temperatures are posing dangers for people working outside and those living on the street. It's also a challenge for people in apartments with cold radiators and freezing pipes.

Residents are urged to bundle up, especially if they're going to be outside for an extended period of time.

The weather also proves difficult for firefighters, who had to battle the freezing night in addition to the flames that raced through a business in Great Kills, Staten Island, overnight.

The firefighters faced a biting wind, sub-freezing temperatures and the flesh-freezing spray from their own hoses.

Eleven firefighters were injured battling the second-alarm fire at the Bella Home Improvement store on Hylan Boulevard just after 12:45 a.m. After climbing a stairwell to get to the flames, the second floor of the commercial building began to buckle. The heavy wood floor gave way, sending three firefighters plunging down.

Other firefighters on the first floor ducked and dove to dodge the falling debris. Those firefighters were briefly trapped under the debris, but were quickly pulled to safety.

The deep freeze seemed to cut right through big winter jackets around the Tri-State. Even a quick trip out for Christmas shopping required a whole lot of bundling up for folks in Jericho, Long Island.

The city's 311 center in downtown Brooklyn has been swamped with cold complaints, receiving more than 100,000 calls. It was also a Code Blue night, with police and outreach groups making every effort to get homeless people off the streets and into shelters.

The Office of Emergency Management offers several tips if you do lose heat or hot water and your building management hasn't fixed it.

First, call 311. Then, insulate your home by hanging blankets over windows. And be sure to open faucets to a steady drip so pipes do not freeze.

Hypothermia occurs when the body temperature drops below 95 degrees and it is potentially fatal. Warning signs include uncontrollable shivering, memory loss, disorientation, incoherence, slurred speech, drowsiness and apparent exhaustion.

Exposed body parts such as fingers, toes, ear lobes or the nose may develop frostbite. Warning signs include a loss of feeling and a white or pale appearance.

In either case, prompt medical attention is needed.

The Weather Service offers these safety tips:
- Dress in several layers of loose-fitting clothing to create pockets of insulating warm air.

- Wear wool or fleece fabrics, not cotton as it dries slowly.

- Wear warm socks with a thermal sock liner; comfortable, closed shoes; a scarf, hat and earmuffs to prevent loss of body heat.

- A water repellent, hooded outer garment adds extra protection.

- Mittens are better than gloves at keeping hands warm.

- Walk around or move in place to increase circulation and generate additional body heat.

- Drink warm beverages. Do not drink alcohol as it will cause a loss of body heat by dilating blood vessels.

- Seek shelter indoors periodically to warm up.

- Watch out for the elderly and very young as they are most at-risk.

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