Tornado damages Pfizer facility in North Carolina as extreme weather sweeps across US

RALEIGH, NC (AP) — A tornado severely damaged a large Pfizer pharmaceutical plant in North Carolina on Wednesday while torrential rain swamped communities in Kentucky and an area from California to southern Florida was still subject to scorching heat.

Pfizer confirmed the large manufacturing complex was damaged by a hurricane that made landfall near Rocky Mount just after noon, but said in an email there were no reports of serious injuries. A later company statement said all employees had been safely evacuated and held accountable.

Parts of the roofs on the massive buildings were torn open. The Pfizer plant was storing large amounts of drugs that were thrown about, said Nash County Sheriff Keith Stone.

“I have had reports of 50,000 pallets of medicines scattered around the facility damaged by rain and wind,” Stone said.

The plant produces anesthetics and other drugs, as well as nearly 25% of all sterile injectable drugs used in U.S. hospitals, Pfizer said on its website. Erin Fox, senior pharmacy director at the University of Utah Health, said the damage will “likely result in long-term shortages while Pfizer works to either relocate or rebuild manufacturing.”

The roof of a Pfizer facility shows severe damage after a tornado swept through the area in Rocky Mount, North Carolina on July 19, 2023.
The roof of a Pfizer facility shows severe damage after a tornado swept through the area in Rocky Mount, North Carolina on July 19, 2023.

ABC affiliate WTVD via Reuters

The National Weather Service said in a tweet that the damage was consistent with an EF3 tornado with winds up to 150 mph.

The Edgecombe County Sheriff’s Office, where part of Rocky Mount is located, said on Facebook that there were reports of three people injured in the tornado, two of whom are life-threatening.

According to a preliminary report from neighboring Nash County, 13 people were injured and 89 buildings were damaged, WRAL-TV reported.

Three homes belonging to Brian Varnell and his family members in the nearby Dortches area were damaged. He told the news outlet he was grateful they were all alive. His sister and her children hid in the laundry room of their home.

“They got where they needed to be in the house and everything went for the best,” Varnell said of a home that was missing exterior walls and much of the roof.

Elsewhere in the US, the onslaught of searing temperatures and rising floods continued, with Phoenix breaking a new temperature record and rescue workers dragging people from rain-soaked homes and vehicles in Kentucky.

Forecasters said there was little relief from the heat and storms in sight. Miami, for example, has been suffering from a heat index of 100 degrees Fahrenheit (37.8 degrees Celsius) or more for weeks, and a rise in temperature is expected this weekend.

In Kentucky Meteorologists warned of a “life-threatening situation” in the parishes of Mayfield and Wingo, which were hit by flash flooding due to thunderstorms this week. Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear declared a state of emergency there on Wednesday as more storms threatened.

Forecasters say up to 10 inches of rain could still fall in parts of Kentucky, Illinois and Missouri near the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers.

The storm system is expected to move over New England, where Earth is located, on Thursday and Friday remains saturated after recent floods. In Connecticut, a mother and her five-year-old daughter died Tuesday after being washed into a swelling river. The search continued in southeastern Pennsylvania Two children were caught in a flash flood Saturday night.

Meanwhile, Phoenix broke an all-time record Wednesday morning with a warm low of 97 F (36.1 C), raising the risk of heat-related illnesses for residents who are unable to cool down adequately overnight. The previous record was 96 F (35.6 °C) in 2003, the weather service reported.

Lindsay LaMont, who works at Sweet Republic ice cream shop in Phoenix, said business was slow during the day and people hid inside to beat the heat. “But I definitely see a lot more people coming in for their ice cream at night when it cools down,” LaMont said.

Heat-related deaths continue to rise in Maricopa County, where Phoenix is ​​located. Public health officials reported Wednesday that six more heat-related deaths were confirmed last week, bringing the year-to-date total to 18. All six deaths did not necessarily occur last week, as some may have occurred weeks earlier but were only confirmed as heat-related after a thorough investigation.

As of this point last year, there have been 29 confirmed heat-related deaths in the county, with an additional 193 being investigated.

Phoenix, a desert city of more than 1.6 million people, had set a separate record on Tuesday among US cities by marking 19 consecutive days with temperatures of 110 F (43.3 C) or greater. On Wednesday the value was again above 110.

National Weather Service meteorologist Matthew Hirsh said the high of 119 F (48.3 C) in Phoenix on Wednesday was the fourth highest temperature ever recorded in the city. The highest temperature ever recorded was 122 F (50 °C) in 1990.

Across the country, Miami recorded its 16th straight day of heat indexes exceeding 105 F (40.6 C). The previous record was five days in June 2019.

“And it’s expected to increase as we get closer to the later part of the week and weekend,” said Cameron Pine, meteorologist for the National Weather Service.

The region also saw 38 consecutive days with a heat index threshold of 100 F (37.8 C) and reported sea surface temperatures were several degrees warmer than normal.

“There’s really no immediate relief in sight,” Pine said.

A 71-year-old Los Angeles-area man died Tuesday afternoon at a trailhead in Death Valley National Park in eastern California when temperatures reached 121 F (49.4 C) or more and rangers suspect heat was a factor, the National Park Service said in a statement Wednesday.

It may be the second heat-related death in Death Valley this summer. On July 3, a 65-year-old man was found dead in a car.

man-made climate change and a newly formed El Niño combine breaking heat records worldwidesay scientists.

The entire globe simmered to record heat June and July. Almost every day this month, the global average temperature is rising was warmer than the unofficially hottest day recorded before 2023 according to the University of Maine Climate Reanalyzer.

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 report.

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