By BEN FINLEY and HANNAH SCHOENBAUM (Associated Press)
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — A tornado heavily damaged a major Pfizer pharmaceutical plant in North Carolina on Wednesday, the latest in a string of extreme weather events plaguing the U.S. on a day when floods deluged communities in Kentucky and scorching heat smothered Phoenix and Miami.
Pharmaceutical company Pfizer confirmed that the large manufacturing complex was damaged by a twister that touched down near Rocky Mount, but said via email that it had no reports of serious injuries there. It said in a later email, without giving workforce numbers, that the plant employees followed safety procedures and evacuated and all “are safe and accounted for.”
Parts of roofs were ripped open atop its massive buildings. The Pfizer plant stores large quantities of medicine that were tossed about by the storm, said Nash County Sheriff Keith Stone, adding, “I’ve got reports of 50,000 pallets of medicine that are strewn across the facility and damaged through the rain and the wind.”
The plant produces anesthesia and other drugs as well as nearly 25 percent of all sterile injectable medications used in U.S. hospitals, Pfizer said on its website. Erin Fox, senior pharmacy director at University of Utah Health, said the damage “will likely lead to long-term shortages while Pfizer works to either move production to other sites or rebuilds.”
The National Weather Service said in a tweet that the damage was consistent with an EF3 tornado with wind speeds up to 150 mph (240 kph). The storm temporarily closed a stretch of Interstate 95 in both directions in North Carolina, causing miles (kilometers) of congestion.
Elsewhere, an onslaught of searing temperatures and rising floodwaters continued to lash out at other parts of the U.S., with Phoenix breaking an all-time temperature record and rescuers pulling people from rain-swamped homes and vehicles in Kentucky. Forecasters said little relief appears in sight after days of extreme weather.
For example, Miami has endured a heat index of at 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius) or more for weeks, with temperatures expected to rise this weekend.
In Kentucky, meteorologists warned of a “life-threatening situation” in the communities of Mayfield and Wingo, inundated by flash flooding from waves of thunderstorms. Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear declared a state of emergency Wednesday in those areas as more storms threatened.
Forecasters expect up to 10 inches (25 centimeters) of rain could yet fall on Kentucky, Illinois and Missouri near where the Ohio and Mississippi rivers converge, prompting flash flood watches and warnings.
The storm system is then forecast to move Thursday and Friday over New England, where the ground remains saturated after recent floods. In Connecticut, a mother and her 5-year-old daughter died after being swept down a swollen river Tuesday. In southeastern Pennsylvania, a search continued for two children caught in flash flooding Saturday night.
Meanwhile, Phoenix broke an all-time record Wednesday morning for a warm low temperature at 97 degrees Fahrenheit (36.1 degrees Celsius), raising the threat of heat-related illness for residents unable to cool off adequately overnight. The previous record was 96 degrees Fahrenheit (35.6 degrees Celsius) in 2003, the weather service reported.
Heat-related deaths continue to rise in Maricopa County, where Phoenix is located. Public health officials reported Wednesday that there were six more heat-associated fatalities last week, bringing the year’s total so far to 18. By this time last year, there had been 29 confirmed heat-associated deaths in the county and another 193 were under investigation.
City of Phoenix heat chief David Hondula noted last week that heat deaths seemed to be lagging this year but warned against drawing any conclusions this early in the season.
There were 425 heat-associated deaths in Maricopa County for all of 2022.
Phoenix, a desert city of more than 1.6 million people, had set a separate record Tuesday among U.S. cities by marking 19 straight days of temperatures of 110 degrees Fahrenheit (43.3 Celsius) or more.
No other major city –- defined as the 25 most populous in the U.S. -– has had any stretch of 110-degree (43.3 Celsius) days or 90-degree (32.2 Celsius) nights longer than Phoenix, said weather historian Christopher Burt of the Weather Company.
Across the country, Miami marked its 16th straight day of heat indexes in excess of 105 degrees Fahrenheit (40-plus Celsius). The previous record was five days in June 2019.
“And it’s only looking to increase as we head into the later part of the week and the weekend,” said Cameron Pine, a National Weather Service meteorologist.
The region has also seen 38 consecutive days with a heat index threshold of 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 Celsius), and sea surface temperatures are reported to be several degrees warmer than normal. Said Pine, “there really is no immediate relief in sight.”
A 71-year-old Los Angeles-area man died at a trailhead in Death Valley National Park in eastern California on Tuesday afternoon as temperatures reached 121 degrees (49 Celsius) or higher and rangers suspect heat was a factor, the National Park Service said in a statement Wednesday.
The man collapsed outside a restroom at Golden Canyon and other visitors called 911 but rangers were unable to save him despite using CPR and a defibrillator. Park officials believe the man had been hiking.
The official temperature at Furnace Creek was 121 degrees (49-plus Celsius) but temperatures in the canyon were likely higher, the statement said. It is possibly the second heat-related fatality in Death Valley this summer. A 65-year-old man was found dead in a car on July 3.
Human-caused climate change and a newly formed El Nino are combining to shatter heat records worldwide, scientists say.
The entire globe has simmered to record heat both in June and July. Nearly every day this month, the global average temperature has been warmer than the unofficial hottest day recorded before 2023, according to University of Maine’s Climate Reanalyzer. Atmospheric scientists say the global warming responsible for unrelenting heat in the Southwest also is making extreme rainfall a more frequent reality.
In Connecticut, fire officials said, a mother in her 30s and her young daughter were carried downstream and found unconscious after swimming in the rain-swollen Shetucket River in Sprague. The woman died Tuesday and her daughter on Wednesday, state police said.
And in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, searchers are still seeking two young siblings visiting from South Carolina caught in what one fire chief called “a wall of water” that hit their family and killed their mother Saturday. Four others also died in the Pennsylvania flash floods.
Finley reported from Norfolk, Virginia. Associated Press reporters Anita Snow in Phoenix, Freida Frisaro in Miami, JoNel Aleccia in Temecula, California, and Rebecca Reynolds in Louisville, Kentucky, contributed to this story.