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Sub-zero record is set Ice-breaking cutters supply islands in bay; elsewhere, cars stall


The numbing, record-breaking cold wave that has Maryland in its grip brought discomfort and inconvenience to many yesterday as pipes froze and burst, engines stalled and exposed skin felt the sting of winter.

But the residents of the islands in the Chesapeake Bay were truly in a bind, cut off from the mainland by ice that prevented the arrival of boats that regularly deliver mail and provisions. Ice-breaking cutters came to the rescue yesterday, bringing much-needed deliveries of staples such as food, milk and medicine.

The temperature dipped to a record low of minus 1 degree at Baltimore-Washington International Airport at 7:30 a.m. yesterday, zapping a 41-year-old record low of 7 degrees for the date. The temperature rose throughout the day to a still-frigid 21 degrees, nearly 20 degrees below normal temperatures for early February.

The chill has formed ice floes in the Chesapeake Bay as much as a foot thick, which has stranded residents of such places as Tangier and Smith islands since Friday. The Coast Guard cutter Chock left Norfolk early yesterday morning, battling freezing spray and ice before reaching Tangier Island and its 700 residents about 5 p.m. with its emergency load.

At one point, frozen spray on the Chock made the cutter so top-heavy that its skipper, Chief David Jones, was forced to stop in two- to three-foot waves while crew members broke the ice off with baseball bats.

The reinforced steel hull of the 72-ton vessel is strong enough to break through up to 18 inches of ice.

About 70 percent of Tangier Sound is frozen over with what is called "rafted" ice, which means solid floes that have pushed up on top of each other, Chief Jones said. The Chock was able to slice through most of it. A few times, the cutter rode up onto the ice and then broke through.

The 65-foot long cutter put in at Crisfield to pick up four passengers and supplies ordered by the islanders, then battered its way out to Tangier. Mayor Dewey Crockett told the seven crew members of the Chock to order anything they wanted from the island's snack bar for supper, and the town would pick up the tab.

"It was little enough for us to do after they've done so much for us," Mr. Crockett said in a telephone interview. "It means everything to us."

Residents of Smith Island to the north were also running low on supplies after ice prevented the 50-foot cruiser, Island Belle, from making its run on Saturday and yesterday.

"This is the time of year when you just have to take it one day at a time," said island resident and postmaster Maxine Evans.

A state-owned cutter, the J. Millard Tawes, cut a track across the bay to the island yesterday, Mrs. Evans said, and she was expecting mail delivery today.

Across the street from the post office, store owner Charlie Evans was running out of his most popular items. "Milk, bread, cheese, eggs -- and bird seed" were out of stock, Mr. Evans said.

His 34 years in the grocery business have taught him plenty, but he still can't predict the weather, he said.

"You don't know how to plan on a freeze-up," said the owner of the island's only grocery, Lee Roy Evans and Sons. "I order right heavily, but everything's dated and when the date gets close, people won't buy it."

Islanders were content to wait until Mr. Evans could make it to Crisfield to restock his shelves.

"I'll wait until Charlie comes back with the things," said resident Eloise Tyler, who said she was low on bread and out of milk. Along the Atlantic coastline, the U.S. Coast Guard was busy picking up buoys and markers that broke when the water froze and they were moved by tides.

"We're running around the bay chasing buoys, said Senior Chief Bob Bennington of the Coast Guard station in Ocean City. "We had a real big tide and it froze up the back creeks. When the tide shifted it broke [the markers] off."

Maryland is frozen because of an Arctic front that iced the Midwest last week with temperatures as low as minus 60 degrees. A fresh snowpack, clear skies and the strong high pressure system all contributed to the bitter cold.

"But we're going to be going up now, slowly but surely," said Amet Figueroa, a weather forecaster at BWI. Temperatures are expected to increase to the low 30s today and to about 50 by the end of the week.

The optimistic forecast, however, was of little consolation. The American Automobile Association of Maryland reported more than 1,800 calls for road service to help start stalled cars 'N yesterday, said spokeswoman Sharon Perry. The agency normally receives about 600 calls a day.

No fatalities or injuries from sub-freezing temperatures were reported in the metropolitan area. Many area homeless shelters that close during the day and open in the evening remained opened yesterday.

How cold?

BWI Airport: -1 degree

Custom House: 9

Finksburg, Carroll Co.: -12

Annapolis: 2

Parkton: -11

Smithsburg, Washington Co.: -18

Salisbury: 0

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