South Grapples With Prolonged Freeze
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
Take a look at a weather map of the U.S. right now and there are a lot of frigid blues and purples in places you don't often see them. It is unusually cold in the Southeast. Farmers are trying to protect their fruit and vegetable crops. And homeless shelters are seeing more people, as NPR's Kathy Lohr reports.
KATHY LOHR: As the temperature dipped into the teens, volunteers in Atlanta searched the streets for homeless people and tried to convince them to come inside for the night.
Mr. CARL HARTRAMPF (Metro Atlanta Task Force for the Homeless): Hello, anybody home?
LOHR: Under an interstate overpass near downtown, a man is bundled up in a plaid blanket. From underneath his cover, he refuses help.
Mr. HARTRAMPF: We've got some extra coats here for you if you want some.
Unidentified Man: No.
Mr. HARTRAMPF: And we'll be happy to bring you in, too. We've got a ride back to shelter.
Unidentified Man: No.
Mr. HARTRAMPF: Okay. It's going to get cold tonight.
LOHR: Carl Hartrampf is with the Metro Atlanta Task Force for the Homeless, which operates the largest shelter in the Southeast.
Mr. HARTRAMPF: People that out here like this tonight, it's so cold, and they refuse to come in, there's something, either depression or maybe even addiction or mental illness that's preventing them. And that's why it's so important to do this outreach, really, all year and try to get people in some proper facility.
LOHR: About 500 men regularly stay at the shelter, but on nights like this, Hartrampf says, they'll see twice that many. In a nearby parking lot, dozens of homeless wait in line for a hot meal. And they rush over as Hartrampf and another task force member hand out coats from the back of a pickup truck. A man who calls himself Roots Daniel(ph) stops by.
Where are you going to stay tonight?
Mr. ROOTS DANIEL: I stay outside. I sleep outside.
Mr. HARTRAMPF: But it's so cold, don't you want to come in?
Mr. DANIEL: No, we stay in tents and stuff.
Mr. HARTRAMPF: You think that's going to be enough?
Mr. DANIEL: It's been enough so far. Thank the almighty.
Mr. HARTRAMPF: If it's not, y'all come down to Peachtree and Pine, okay?
Mr. DANIEL: Yeah, I know.
LOHR: On this bone-chilling night, only one woman we meet, huddled in a doorway, is willing to come inside. Shelters in churches across the Southeast have opened up overflow rooms. When it's below freezing, they say they won't turn anyone away. More than a dozen water mains have ruptured in the Atlanta area this week, a combination of the lingering cold and old pipes. In Southeast Alabama, two old boilers stopped working at the Bullock Correctional Facility, leaving some 1,300 inmates without heat or hot water. Brian Corbett with the Alabama Department of Corrections says one boiler is working now, the other is being replaced.
Mr. BRIAN CORBETT (Alabama Department of Corrections): We've moved approximately 650 inmates to other facilities. And we've bought in temporary heating. You know, unfortunately, these don't break in the summer, they break in the winter when they're most needed, but we are working to make sure that we have adequate heat and that the repairs are made.
LOHR: The extended cold snap also brought scattered damage to Florida's citrus crop, a $9 billion industry. Governor Charlie Crist declared a state of emergency and relaxed restrictions on commercial vehicles to allow farmers to get their crops to processing plants quicker. Andrew Meadows is a spokesman for Florida Citrus Mutual, which represents 8,000 growers. He says temperatures fell below 28 degrees in several spots.
Mr. ANDREW MEADOWS (Spokesman, Florida Citrus Mutual): It looks like we have some isolated pockets of damage, maybe some frozen fruits, some twig and leaf damage. But overall we came through pretty well. It certainly was not a catastrophic event.
LOHR: But Meadows says growers remain on alert, as forecasters are calling for below freezing temperatures again this weekend.
Mr. MEADOWS: So it's really going to be an anxious week for us and our growers, not a whole lot of sleep going on, I can assure you that.
LOHR: Another wave of Arctic air heads south tomorrow and it's expected to dump rain, sleet and snow from South Carolina all the way to Louisiana.
Kathy Lohr, NPR News, Atlanta.
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