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Subzero cold hits Maine as winter tightens grip

CARIBOU, Maine -- The coldest weather so far this winter sent the mercury to 16 below zero in Caribou, created dangerous wind chills of 30 to 40 below in several communities, and caused dead car batteries and a flood in a downtown Portland office building.

In Portland, the temperature dipped to 1 degree, cold enough to cause pipes to burst in one of the state's biggest office buildings: One City Center.

Several floors of the 13-floor building were flooded, and water dripped into offices on the floors below, WGME-TV reported. Outside, the brick walls were coated in ice where water had trickled down the sides of the building.

"There was just water coming from everywhere," Portland Deputy Fire Chief Larry Libby said after surveying the damage.

Libby described ceiling tiles disintegrating as water poured from pipes that burst inside individual heating units. Firetrucks were on the scene briefly before leaving at noon to let private crews launch a cleanup operation.

Citadel Broadcasting was told to expect water, and workers covered up equipment with plastic.

Elsewhere, many people simply struggled to get their cars started. The American Automobile Association dealt with 1,800 calls -- triple the number on a regular morning -- from motorists seeking help in Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont, said spokesman Matt McKenzie.

The entire state of Maine endured temperatures either below zero or in the single digits, said Steve Capriola from the National Weather Service in Gray.

The combination of Arctic air and northwest winds combined for wind chills as low as 40 below in Allagash, Frenchville, and Greenville. New Hampshire's Mount Washington had a wind chill of 77 below.

Portland's low of 1 degree was the coldest so far this year, and it tied the coldest temperature recorded in 2006, Capriola said.

It probably seemed even colder because the weather has been relatively mild so far this season. In southern Maine, the frigid blast arrived after the warmest November and second-warmest December on record in Portland. Last winter was mild, as well.

"We just haven't seen any extreme cold over the past year," Capriola said yesterday. "We seem to be making up for it."

It has now been nearly two years since the temperature in Maine's largest city actually dropped below zero. The last time it happened was on Jan. 29, 2005, when it dipped to 5 below , Capriola said.

The cold weather will stick around for another night before the mercury begins climbing again, Capriola said. By tomorrow, the high temperature in southern Maine is expected to approach the mid-30s.

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