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MINNESOTA NEWS ROUND-UP: Third body recovered from crash into Mississippi River

WINONA - Authorities in Winona County have now recovered a third body after an SUV plunged into the icy Mississippi River Sunday morning, but continue searching for another man they believe was also in the vehicle. 

Killed in the the crash were 36-year-old Christina Hauser of Winona and 30-year-old Matthew Erickson of Chatfield.  Authorities have not released the names of the other two men, but the sheriff says one is from Winona and the other from La Crosse, Wisconsin.  Underwater robotic equipment was brought in to aid the search.

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The Hennepin County medical examiner's office has identified the second body found in the rubble of an apartment building as 60-year-old Mrimri Farah.  Also killed in the New Year's Day explosion and fire were 57-year-old Ahmed Farah Ali and 29-year-old Abdiquni Adan, while 13 others were hurt.  While a natural gas explosion was initially suspected, an official cause of the blast and fire has not been determined.

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The winds are calmer and the temperatures are five to ten degrees warmer across the state, but National Weather Service meteorologist Chris Franks says Minnesotans aren't out of the woods yet.  A wind chill warning remains in place until noon, and Franks says this afternoon will be slightly more comfortable -- at least until the evening hours, when another night of very cold conditions and dangerous wind chills begins again.

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The Arctic cold that's gripping Minnesota *is* out of this world.  The National Weather Service says the coldest spot in the U.S. yesterday was minus-37 in Babbitt, Minnesota.  That's colder than it's been on Mars in recent days.  NASA's rover Curiosity shows the high temperature on the surface of the Red Planet was just under minus-33 degrees.  How cold has it gotten around the nation?  Temps have been anywhere from 20-to-40 degrees below average in parts of Minnesota, Montana, the Dakotas, Iowa, Wisconsin and Nebraska.  

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It can be tough to find a silver lining in 20-below-zero temperatures, but for Minnesota trees there is one:  Director of the University of Minnesota Center for Forest Ecology Lee Frelich says many emerald ash borers will die.  He says temperatures of minus 15 to minus 20 can kill a good proportion of the insects and at minus 30 almost all of them would be killed.  The only question is, 'Does it get that cold inside a tree?'  Frelich says bark is a very good insulator, but because it's been colder than -20 for more than ten hours it's likely that is has remained cold enough, long enough to reduce the ash borer population.  Frelich says it won't kill all of them, but enough will die that their ability to reproduce and spread will be significantly hampered for the next several years.

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With a long stretch of cold weather impacting much of Minnesota, state officials are reminding people there is still grant money available to help low-income Minnesotans pay what will likely be high home heating bills.  Commerce Commissioner Mike Rothman says the Energy Assistance Program helps keep those struggling to pay the bills safe and warm, so they're not making budget tradeoffs involving food or medicine.  The average grant, which is paid directly to the utility company, is 500 dollars.  It's available to families that make less than 50 percent of the median Minnesota income.  For a family of four that is just over $43,000.

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The Salvation Army's shelters are packed as extreme cold continues across Minnesota -- and they're asking for donations of clean and new-or-gently-used warm blankets, hats, mittens, scarves and boots.  The agency's Annette Bauer says they could also use donations of new undergarments and socks.  She says if someone feels moved to donate those items in particular, it would help a huge amount.  To make arrangements to donate, contact the Salvation Army nearest you.

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As the arctic blast continues across Minnesota, experts remind pet owners that cats and dogs need to pretty much stay inside.  Jaclyn Keenen with the Humane Society of Otter Tail County says dogs should be let outside to "do their business" and then come right back in, because they can suffer as quickly as people from hypothermia and frostbite.  Keenen says dogs and cats can get frostbite on their nose, toes, tails and ears.  She says if you see any problems, call your veterinarian.

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The Minnesota Zoo will re-open today after staying closed Monday because of extreme cold.  Officials note there will be discount admission, as for all winter days when temperatures drop below zero.  But outdoor exhibits, including the Northern Trail and Minnesota Trail, will remain closed today to protect visitors and the animals.  

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University of Minnesota Duluth student Alyssa Lommel no longer has the tips of her toes on one foot nor any toes on the other.  Doctors in St. Paul have started the amputations needed after the sophomore student suffered severe hypothermia from spending the night on her porch after a night of drinking in early December.  Lommel will have surgery on her fingers in a few weeks.  She nearly froze to death after spending nine hours outside.

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Former Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak is in good condition following a second surgery at Abbott Northwestern Hospital.  The latest procedure was done to clear an artery following his weekend heart attack.  A statement from the hospital says the surgery took about an hour and was done in addition to stents being placed and an angioplasty performed Saturday after the heart attack.  The 58-year-old is expected to be released today.

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The Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis is forecasting moderate economic growth for Minnesota in 2014.  Regional Economist Toby Madden says optimism in the business leaders survey is at a seven-year high and they're expecting increases in production and worker productivity, more new orders, investments in plant and equipment, and more hiring.  Madden says business leaders only expect very moderate wage increases this year.  The Fed's statistical model is predicting Minnesota's unemployment rate will fall to four-point-three percent by the fourth quarter. 

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