BEN FINLEY and HANNA SCHENBAUM (Associated Press)
ROLEY, North Carolina (FloridaToday.news) — A tornado badly damaged a major Pfizer pharmaceutical plant in North Carolina Wednesday, as heavy rains flooded communities in Kentucky and the area from California to south Florida suffered even more scorching heat.
Pfizer confirmed that a large manufacturing complex was damaged by a tornado that touched down shortly after noon near Rocky Mount, but said in an email that it had no reports of major injuries. A later company statement said all employees were safely evacuated and held accountable.
Parts of the roofs were torn off on its massive buildings. Pfizer’s plant has a large amount of medication scattered around, Nash County Sheriff Keith Stone said, adding: “I have reports of 50,000 pallets of medication scattered throughout the facility and damaged by rain and wind.”
The plant produces anesthesia and other medicines, as well as nearly 25% of all sterile injectables used in US hospitals, according to Pfizer’s website. Erin Fox, senior director of pharmacy at the University of Utah Health, said the damage is “likely to lead to long-term shortages while Pfizer works to relocate production or rebuild.”
The National Weather Service said on Twitter that the damage was consistent with an EF3 tornado with winds up to 150 mph (240 km/h). The storm temporarily closed a section of Interstate 95 in both directions in North Carolina, causing congestion for miles (kilometers).
Abnormal temperatures and rising floodwaters continued to hit other parts of the US, with Phoenix breaking the all-time temperature record and rescuers pulling people out of rain-flooded homes and cars in Kentucky. Forecasters say no relief is expected after several days of extreme weather.
For example, the heat index in Miami is 100 degrees Fahrenheit (37.8 degrees Celsius) or higher for several weeks, and temperatures are expected to rise this weekend.
In Kentucky, meteorologists have warned of a “life-threatening situation” in the communities of Mayfield and Wingo, which were inundated by flash floods from thunderstorm waves. Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear declared a state of emergency in those areas on Wednesday due to the threat of more storms.
Forecasters expect parts of Kentucky, Illinois and Missouri near the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers to see up to 10 inches (25 centimeters) of rain.
The storm system is forecast to move Thursday and Friday over New England, where the ground remains saturated with water from recent floods. In Connecticut, a mother and her 5-year-old daughter died after being swept into a flooded river on Tuesday. Searches continue in southeastern Pennsylvania for two children affected by flash flooding Saturday night.
Meanwhile, Phoenix broke the record Wednesday morning for a low temperature of 97 degrees Fahrenheit (36.1 degrees Celsius), raising the risk of heat-related illness for residents unable to adequately cool off overnight. The previous record was 96 degrees Fahrenheit (35.6 degrees Celsius) in 2003, the weather service said.
Heat-related deaths continue to rise in Maricopa County, where Phoenix is located. Public health officials said Wednesday that six more heat-related deaths were reported last week, bringing the total for the year to 18. By this time last year, the county had 29 confirmed heat-related deaths, with 193 more under investigation.
Phoenix City Heating Chief David Hondula noted last week that heat-related deaths appear to be lagging behind this year, but warned against jumping to conclusions at the start of the season. As Chief of Heating, Gondula oversees efforts to mitigate the effects of high temperatures in Phoenix.
For all of 2022, there were 425 heat-related deaths in Maricopa County.
Phoenix, a desert city of more than 1.6 million people, set a separate U.S. city record on Tuesday with 19 consecutive days of temperatures of 110 degrees Fahrenheit (43.3 Celsius) or higher.
According to weather historian Christopher Burt of the Weather Company, no other major city, which is among the 25 most populous cities in the United States, has had longer 110-degree (43.3 Celsius) days or 90-degree (32.2 Celsius) nights than Phoenix.
Across the country in Miami, the heatwave exceeded 105 degrees Fahrenheit (40.5 Celsius) for the 16th consecutive day. The previous record was set for five days in June 2019.
“And it’s only going to increase as we get closer to the end of the week and the weekend,” said Cameron Pine, meteorologist for the National Weather Service.
The region also saw 38 consecutive days with a heat index threshold of 100 degrees Fahrenheit (37.8 Celsius) and sea surface temperatures were reported to be several degrees above normal. According to Pine, “In fact, there is no immediate relief in sight.”
A 71-year-old Los Angeles man died at the head of a trail in Death Valley National Park in eastern California on Tuesday afternoon as temperatures reached 121 degrees (49.4 Celsius) or higher and rangers suspect heat was the cause, the National Park Service said in a statement Wednesday.
A man collapsed near a restroom in Golden Canyon and other patrons called 911, but rangers were unable to save him despite using artificial respiration and a defibrillator. Park officials believe the man was walking.
The official temperature at Furnace Creek was 121 degrees (49.4 Celsius), the statement said, but temperatures in the canyon were likely higher. This may be the second fatality due to the heat in Death Valley this summer. On July 3, a 65-year-old man was found dead in a car.
Human-induced climate change and the newly formed El Niño will combine to break heat records around the world, scientists say.
The entire globe boiled to record-breaking heat in both June and July. Nearly every day this month, the global average temperature has been warmer than the unofficial hottest day recorded through 2023, according to the University of Maine’s Climate Reanalyzer. Atmospheric scientists say global warming, responsible for the relentless heat wave in the southwest, is also making extreme rainfall more frequent.
In Connecticut, a 30-year-old mother and her young daughter were swept downstream and found unconscious after trying to swim in the rain-swollen Shetaket River in Sprague. The woman died on Tuesday and her daughter on Wednesday, state police said.
And in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, searchers are still looking for two young siblings from South Carolina who were caught in what one fire chief called a “water wall” that hit their family and killed their mother on Saturday. Four more people died during the flooding in Pennsylvania.
Finlay reported from Norfolk, Virginia. Associated Press reporters Anita Snow in Phoenix, Freida Frisaro in Miami, JoNel Alexia in Temecula, California, and Rebecca Reynolds in Louisville, Kentucky, contributed to the story.