North America's deep freeze eases

Rajini Vaidyanathan has travelled the frozen road to Hell, Michigan

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The deep freeze that has left people in North America shivering for days, shattering century-old temperature records, is loosening its icy grip.

The mercury is rising in the US Midwest and East, which has borne the brunt of the so-called polar vortex, but was still below freezing in many areas.

At least 21 people have died since Sunday as a result of the weather, and more than 11,000 flights were grounded.

US natural gas usage hit an all-time record in the US to meet heat demands.

Forecasters predicted weather would return to normal across much of the US in the coming days, after 50 US cities set new record low temperatures on Tuesday.

'Dramatically warmer'

Dogs found with frozen paws were rescued in Ohio, as ABC's Linzie Janis reports

The US Midwest - which experienced -37C (-35F) in recent days - also warmed slightly, but still faced temperatures 15 to 25 degrees below average.

Atlanta, Georgia, returned to a more temperate 5C (42F) on Wednesday following a record low of -14C (6F) a day earlier.

New York City is expected to top -1C (31F) on Thursday, after shattering a 118-year-old low temperature record with -15C (4F) on Tuesday.

The US side of the Niagara Falls is pictured in Ontario The US side of the Niagara Falls is pictured in Ontario
A man walks past a car partially covered in ice in Baltimore, Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2014, where temperatures continue to remain well below freezing A man walks past a car partially covered in ice in Baltimore
Homes  in Chicago are seen covered in snow and ice Homes in Chicago are seen covered in snow and ice
A woman takes photos of a frozen water fountain in Mississippi A woman takes photos of a frozen water fountain in Mississippi
A motorist drives by the ice forming on a cliff along Route 61 in Palo Alto, Pennsylvania A motorist drives by the ice formed on a cliff in Palo Alto, Pennsylvania

Temperatures in parts of North America plunged so low this week that they eclipsed readings recently recorded on the Red Planet by the Mars Rover.

Even Alabama's top official was not immune to the extreme cold.

Governor Robert Bentley faced an estimated $50,000 (£30,397) in damage after a water pipe froze and burst in the attic of his home in Tuscaloosa.

In Canada, meanwhile, a 70-year-old Ontario man is recovering in hospital after being buried in a snowdrift in his vehicle for nearly 24 hours, reports CBC.

Scientists also posited a silver lining to the cold snap, saying it could kill some of the pests that have ravaged northern forests.

The low temperatures may also slow the migration of invasive species and prevent erosion of wetlands, they say.

Map showing how temperatures across the US at the beginning of January 2014 have differed from the average temperatures

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