(New throughout, adds details on New York repair program)
By Jonathan Allen
NEW YORK, Jan 24 (Reuters) - Arctic air gripped parts of the United States on Thursday, making life miserable for people still without heat months after superstorm Sandy and turning steam from a nuclear power plant in Pennsylvania into a snowfall substantial enough to shovel.
In Ely, Minnesota, the latest in a string of frigid days plunged the mercury to 29 below zero Fahrenheit (minus 34 Celsius), according to the National Weather Service. The stunningly low temperature, which came without fatoring in wind chill, was recorded under calm skies near Minnesota's border with Canada, the weather service said.
In Brooklyn, New York, where about 200 homes slammed by Sandy in October remained without heat, "It's just getting colder and colder," said Doreen Greenwood-Garson, chief of the Gerritsen Beach Fire Department.
Nightly, the volunteer department has loaded its ambulance with donated space heaters and free hot meals and delivered them to shut-ins, said Greenwood-Garson, a real estate broker. Already it has given away a total of 60 space heaters and each night about 50 meals, she said.
In Long Beach on New York's Long Island, the Martin Luther King Center, a community gathering spot, ran out of donated space heaters, said James Hodge, a city employee who is coordinating relief efforts there and is without heat in his own home.
"I even gave out my own personal heaters that I was sleeping with," Hodge said.
He and his two brothers have been sleeping in several layers of clothes under piles of blankets near pots of hot water, their breath still visible in the cold of their home.
The center has been hosting more than 100 people during the day who needed a warm place to stay for a few hours, particularly school-children, who are being provided hot food, Hodge said.
Hodge said he was concerned that some people still suffering from the storm's damage may be increasingly reluctant to seek help as time went on.
"Do I ask three months later for a sweater?" he said. "Do I ask for some food three months later when everyone thinks I'm fine, when I should be back on my feet? I think some people suffer from not asking because they're worried about who's going to question them."
New York City is making free emergency repairs to thousands of Sandy-damaged homes under its newly created Rapid Repairs program, which supplies furnaces, water heaters and other materials and pays contractors to make repairs at no cost to residents and landlords.
As of Wednesday, the program had restored heat, power or hot water to more than 12,000 homes in 7,363 buildings, work was underway in another 1,870 buildings and repairs had yet to start in 2,620 buildings, a spokesman for the program said.
Temperatures were expected to rise a bit when a snowstorm was predicted for Friday to blanket Midwestern and Atlantic coastal states, according to meteorologist Alex Sosnowski of Accuweather.com.
In Pennsylvania, some residents already have been shoveling, after steam from cooling stacks of a nuclear power plant in Shippingport, 30 miles northwest of Pittsburgh near the Ohio border, met the cold snap on Tuesday.
As a result, snow fell over area homes for about six hours, said Fred McMullen, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. Ground-level cold air met the stacks' warm moist air, forming a cloud that produced snowflakes, he said.
"Don't eat glowing snow!" Philadelphia Daily News reporter David Murphy jokingly wrote on Twitter.
Accuweather.com noted the Shippingport snow was neither fluorescent nor radioactive. (Additional reporting by David Bailey in Minneapolis and Drew Singer in Pittsburgh, Writing by Barbara Goldberg, Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst, David Gregorio and Kenneth Barry)