University of Iowa student dies during polar vortex; 7 other deaths linked to wintry blast

A University of Iowa student has died after being found unresponsive on campus grounds early Wednesday as a polar vortex gripped the Midwest in arctic temperatures that have been linked to at least seven other deaths.

Gerald Belz, 18, was found behind an academic building on the Iowa City campus just before 3 a.m. by campus police, KCRG-TV reported. The pre-med student was rushed to a hospital, where he later died.

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Police haven’t released a cause of death, but believed the frigid temperatures played a role, FOX28 Cedar Rapids reported. With wind chill at the time police found Belz was minus 51 degrees, according to the National Weather Service.

Foul play isn’t suspected and zero alcohol was found in Belz’s system, police said.

Belz’s father, Michael, described his son to KCRG as “a momma’s boy with a tough exterior.” He told KCCI-TV of Des Moines that his son, who graduated from Cedar Rapids Kennedy High School, wanted to be a cardiologist.

"I want people to remember him as a compassionate person," Michael Belz told KCCI. "He had many more friends than I was aware of. He didn't bring many friends over to the house, but we knew he had lots of friends."

The University of Iowa in a statement on Twitter wrote they were "saddened by the loss of a member of the Hawkeye family."

Police are continuing the investigation into his death. The university canceled classes until Thursday amid the frigid weather.

Ice covers the Chicago River Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2019, in Chicago as a deadly arctic deep freeze enveloped the Midwest with record-breaking temperatures. (AP Photo/Teresa Crawford)

Ice covers the Chicago River Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2019, in Chicago as a deadly arctic deep freeze enveloped the Midwest with record-breaking temperatures. (AP Photo/Teresa Crawford)

Meanwhile, an 82-year-old Illinois man was found outside several hours after he fell trying to get into his home, the Peoria Journal Star reported. His cause of death was recorded as related to cold exposure. His identity was withheld until his family can be notified.

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In Indiana, a 22-year-old police officer and his wife were killed in a crash on an icy road, South Bend station WBND reported. Ligonier Police Officer Ethan Kiser's SUV spun into the path of another SUV, killing the couple and the driver of the other vehicle, 21-year-old Shawna Kiser, officials told the station.

Other deaths included a man struck and killed by a snow plow in the Chicago area and a Milwaukee man found frozen to death in a garage.

The arctic air Wednesday had closed schools and businesses and strained infrastructure with some of the lowest temperatures in a generation. The deep freeze snapped rail lines, canceled hundreds of flights and strained utilities.

A cyclist decked out in cold weather gear rides past the city skyline and a frozen Bde Maka Ska in Minneapolis. (Anthony Souffle/Star Tribune via AP)

A cyclist decked out in cold weather gear rides past the city skyline and a frozen Bde Maka Ska in Minneapolis. (Anthony Souffle/Star Tribune via AP)

The Postal Service suspended mail delivery in parts of the Midwest amid the deep freeze.

Temperatures recorded Wednesday saw Chicago drop to a low of around minus 23 degrees. Milwaukee had similar conditions. Minneapolis recorded minus 27 degrees. Sioux Falls, South Dakota, saw minus 25 degrees.

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While the deadly cold weather system that put much of the Midwest into a historic deep freeze was expected to ease Thursday, temperatures could still tumble to record lows in some places before the region begins to thaw out.

Before the worst of the cold begins to lift, the National Weather Service said Chicago could hit lows early Thursday that break the city's record of minus 27 degrees set on Jan. 20, 1985.

Fox News’ Nicole Darrah and the Associated Press contributed to this report.