/ Modified feb 3, 2011 3:28 p.m.

Record Cold Cuts Off Services

Freezing temperatures wreak havoc in Southern Arizona

Temperatures in Tucson fell to 18 degrees overnight and dipped even lower in surrounding areas, according to the National Weather Service.

The unprecedented lows--with wind chills that made the temperatures feel more like 3 or 4 degrees--triggered a number of utility outages affecting thousands of residents across Southern Arizona.

Increased demand left 14,000 Southwest Gas customers without gas and heat. Additionally, 2,000 Tucson Water customers are without water.

Officials with Tucson Water say the outage was brought on by the extreme cold, which caused electronic controls at various reservoir and booster sites to malfunction, automatically shutting down pumps. Other customers don’t have water due to frozen or burst pipes within their homes or businesses, says Tucson Water.

Several Tucson schools and at least six libraries affected by the gas and water outages closed for the day as a result.

Reports from the Tucson Police Department linked the cold to two deaths, as well.

Tucson Mayor Bob Walkup called the cold's impact on the region and its dangers "very real" in a press conference this afternoon. "We have to put our resources into making sure our people are safe," Walkup told reporters.

To that end, Southwest Gas is urging customers who still have gas service to conserve it by turning down their thermostats and water heater settings. Tucson Water's Fernando Molina suggested residents check their water lines for damage and insulate any exposed pipes, particularly at the point where water enters the home, with rags or styrofoam insulation.

Temperatures are expected to remain frigid for another night before climbing back into the 60s for the weekend. Operation Deep Freeze offers shelter to anyone who has no warm place to wait out the freeze--contact Salvation Army Hospitality House at (520) 622-5411 for more details.

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