A tornado heavily damaged a large 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 a large complex was damaged by a twister that tore through the Rocky Mount area, but said in an email that it had no reports of serious injuries at the facility.
The Pfizer plant stores large quantities of medicine that were tossed about by the storm, Nash County Sheriff Keith Stone said, 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.”
Pfizer is one of the largest employers in Nash County, where the sheriff’s office also confirmed damage to several homes.
Meanwhile, an onslaught of searing temperatures and rising floodwaters continued to strike other areas 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 there was little relief in sight from days of extreme weather for large swaths of the nation.
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 to help stricken communities as more storms threatened.
The National Weather Service also issued flash flood watches and warnings in parts of states near Kentucky. Forecasters expect up to 10 inches (25 centimeters) of rain could fall on Kentucky, Illinois and Missouri in an area where the Ohio and Mississippi rivers converge.
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. Heat is suspected in another 69 deaths under investigation.
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.
On Tuesday, Phoenix had reached 117 degrees (47.2 Celsius) by 3 p.m. Many residents were confined indoors, turning the usually vibrant metropolis into a ghost town.
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 in addition to that we have very warm sea surface temperatures that are five to seven degrees Fahrenheit warmer than normal … there really is no immediate relief in sight,” Pine said.
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 this kind of extreme rainfall a more frequent reality, because clouds hold more moisture as the temperature rises, resulting in more destructive storms.
Elsewhere, Connecticut state fire officials said a mother in her 30s and her young daughter were carried downstream and found unconscious after swimming in the Shetucket River in Sprague, swollen from recent New England rains. The woman died Tuesday and the daughter on Wednesday, state police said.
And in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, searchers are still seeking two young siblings visiting from South Carolina who became trapped in what one fire chief called “a wall of water” that hit their family and killed their mother Saturday. Four others also died in those flash floods.
Finley reported from Norfolk, Virginia. Associated Press reporters Anita Snow in Phoenix, Freida Frisaro in Miami, Hannah Schoenbaum in Raleigh, North Carolina, and Rebecca Reynolds in Louisville, Kentucky, contributed to this story.