Subzero temperatures resulting in business and school closures across the country this week also brought mail delivery to a grinding halt in parts of Oak Park.
Residents living on the south side of the village, on both sides of the Eisenhower Expressway, report that they have not received mail since Saturday.
Oak Park Postmaster Theresa Thurmond says that on Monday, when the temperature dropped to minus 17 degrees, more than half of the mail carriers were unable to make it to work. Those who did faced dangerously cold weather, icy streets and sidewalks. Thurmond said carriers had to use de-icer, WD-40 lubricant and, in some cases, hammers to pry open mailboxes that had frozen shut.
"It's like you're doing surgery," she said.
According to Thurmond, the south station post office runs 37 routes, but 20 of the carriers were unable to make it to work on Monday, leaving 17 to pick up the slack. The Lake Street Post Office also had 18 carriers unable to make it in on Monday.
One employee who made it out came back with frostbite and another suffered hypothermia after returning from their route, Thurmond said.
By Thursday, both stations were operating with full staff.
"I've tried to explain the situation as much as possible about delivering what we could at the time," Thurmond said. "Today we're at 100 percent, and everyone that should get mail will get mail today."
Not knowing what had happened to their mail or when deliveries would resume was the biggest point of consternation for residents.
Rick Nosek, 57, who lives on the 1000 block of Wenonah Ave., said after calling both branches, he was told by a representative at the main branch that, "'I can't tell you what happens in South Oak Park."
After finally getting through to the south branch, Nosek was assured that he'd receive his mail on Thursday.
"I've lived in Oak Park my entire life and I can't remember this happening," he said, adding, "I have some bills outstanding, and I want to make sure they arrive."
Elizabeth Rexford, of the 800 block of Lyman Ave., was in touch with neighbors and learned that residents have not received mail all week in the area bounded by Ridgeland, Austin, Madison and Harrison.
"They're having the same problem in River Forest," she said, adding that Saturday was the last time she received mail.
"Maybe it was impossible to get the mail out when it was so very cold (on Monday); we understand that, but not on Tuesday and Wednesday," Rexford said.
She contacted the Postmaster General of the United States earlier this week and received a response today apologizing for the delay.
"Regrettably extreme weather conditions have presented themselves over the past week causing an adverse effect on our staff as well as our overall operations...Staff shortages have been experienced at many of our facilities," the letter, in part, stated.
It goes on to state that due to extreme weather conditions, postal service policy requires carriers to return to branch offices by 6 p.m. As a result, some addresses may not get delivery for the day, according to the letter, and for those routes that were missed; they are given priority the following day.
According to Rexford, she was told by someone at the post office that she would receive her mail on Wednesday, but it never arrived.
"I wonder why he thought we were going to get it, and we didn't," she said. "There's something wrong with that situation."
She noted that in addition to bills, some people receive medication through the mail.
"A lot of things are done by email, but a lot of mail is still very important to people," she said.
According to Thurmond, mail service resumed to a normal schedule on Thursday and that the delay was about keeping workers safe.
"Mail carriers are human," she said. "They are people, and we want to send them home back to their people. It's not about them being lazy; it's about them being safe."
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