updated 1/17/2009 5:10:36 PM ET 2009-01-17T22:10:36

Bitter cold kept its grip on the Northeast on Saturday, while warmer temperatures brought relief to the Midwest and Southeast.

A day after schools in a dozen states closed and Alabama was colder than Alaska, temperatures in the South climbed into the 40s, thawing water fountains and pipes. Parts of the Northeast, however, persisted with temperatures barely in the teens.

In Boston, the Pine Street Inn shelter sent vans to look for the homeless during the day, rather than just at night, said shelter spokeswoman Barbara Trevisan. The shelter also expanded its hours and is serving an extra meal.

"From what I'm hearing, it's the coldest it's been in a number of years," she said.

Trevisan said the shelter, which holds about 700 people, has been packed in recent nights. Boston's low early Friday was 6 degrees, and temperatures hovered near zero elsewhere in the state.

The weather led to at least seven deaths. In northeast Ohio, authorities said an 8-year-old boy drowned Friday after he fell into a partially frozen creek and got stuck under the ice. Temperatures had reached several degrees below zero in the town of Mentor, Ohio.

Near Pittsburgh, the frozen body of a man was found outside his home at midday Friday. The cause of death was not immediately determined.

In Illinois, the deep cold that seized the state for two days eased, leaving flooded rivers and frozen waterways in its wake.

The Coast Guard said an icebreaking tugboat will be sent Saturday evening to Presque Isle Bay in northwestern Pennsylvania to free two ships that got stuck on their way to their winter berths. Thick ice kept the ships from making it into port in Erie.

Temperatures reached the low 30s in central Illinois and the low 20s in the northern part of the state Saturday — balmy compared to the subzero weather that forced people to hide their grimaces behind scarves and ski masks. The National Weather Service said it had been the coldest episode in northern Illinois since February 1996.

At least five tow barges became locked in ice on the lakes near Peoria, said Mike Cox, operations manager with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' Peoria office. Ice also caused barge traffic to slow along the Illinois River.

In upstate New York, where temperatures in some communities had dipped below minus 30 during the cold snap, Saturday's highs were forecast to be in the mid-teens near the Canadian border.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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