North Carolina Fire, Guinea-Bissau, and Visualizing Global Debt Everything you need to know for today in five minutes.

Good morning. It's Wednesday, Feb. 2, and we're covering a dangerous fire in North Carolina, another coup attempt in Africa, and much more.



Carolina Fertilizer Fire

Nearly 6,500 residents have been evacuated as a dangerous fire continues to burn at the Winston Weaver Company fertilizer plant in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. The fire, which began Monday night, poses a threat as chemicals at the plant could cause a large explosion. The plant contains 500 tons of ammonium nitrate, nearly double the amount at the West, Texas, fertilizer plant fire in 2013 that killed 15 people. Firefighters retreated from the area after the fire reached a nearby railcar containing an additional 100 tons of the chemical.


The odorless chemical, which makes combustible material burn at a faster rate, is used to make fertilizers and explosives. It was more recently responsible for the 2020 explosion in Beirut that killed 218 people (involving 2,700 tons of the chemical).


No injuries have been reported, and officials do not know what started the fire as of this morning. See drone footage of the fire here.

Attempted Coup in Guinea-Bissau

Gunfire erupted around a government palace in the capital of Guinea-Bissau yesterday in what is seen as an attempted coup. President Umaro Sissoco Embaló later said the situation was under control, though some members of the security forces had been killed.


The attempted coup in Guinea-Bissau is the fourth time either a successful or failed coup has transpired in West Africa in 18 months. Just last month, military troops took control of Burkina Faso. Similar events have happened in Guinea, Mali, and Niger (failed coup). The West African regional bloc, known as ECOWAS, is expected to discuss the region's rising instability at a meeting Thursday. 

In a statement yesterday, Embaló said the failed coup may have been catalyzed by his efforts to fight drug trafficking and corruption. He took office in February 2020 after winning a runoff vote, though his opponent Domingos Simões Pereira has contested the results.

All Eyes on Punxsutawney

The nation's attention turns to western Pennsylvania this morning to watch the country's most famous groundhog, Punxsutawney Phil, determine whether 2022 will enjoy an early spring. The prognostication comes as a cross-country winter storm begins its march across the Midwest. 


As is tradition, the slumberous whistle-pig will join his top-hatted crew to see whether he'll spot his shadow (foretelling six more weeks of winter) or relax a bit with his admiring fans (predicting an early spring). Phil is right about 40% of the time—or an impressive 60% if you flip the somewhat arbitrary rules.


The ceremony was originally conceived of by a local newspaper editor in 1887 but has its roots in Eastern European celebrations of the midway between the winter solstice and spring equinox. The prescient land-beaver will also pick one of two scrolls, each containing separate wintery prophecies.


In reality, science says the real reason Phil peeks out of his burrow is to check for mates. Catch the action live from Gobbler's Knob here.

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Sports, Entertainment, & Culture

In partnership with NIPYATA!

> NFL legend Tom Brady makes it official, announces retirement after 22 seasons and seven championships (More) | Ex-Dolphins head coach Brian Flores sues NFL, three NFL teams over alleged racial discrimination (More)


"We Don't Talk About Bruno" from "Encanto" soundtrack becomes first Disney song in 29 years to top Billboard Hot 100 charts (More) | "The View" suspends Whoopi Goldberg for her remarks that the Holocaust was “not about race” (More)


> More than a dozen historically Black colleges and universities received bomb threats yesterday, the first day of Black History Month (More)

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Science & Technology

> Tesla recalls roughly 54,000 vehicles for software update after regulators show the company's full self-driving mode includes an option to perform rolling stops through stop signs (More)


> 3D kidney tissue grown from mouse stem cells demonstrated; research may pave the way for lab-grown artificial organs (More)


> Brain mapping study suggests seizures affect the same neural circuits responsible for memory formation, providing a link between epilepsy and memory loss (More)

Business & Markets

> A record 47 million Americans voluntarily left their jobs in 2021 per the Labor Department’s Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS) report (More)


> Over 400 Native American tribes reach $590M opioid settlement with Johnson & Johnson and drug distributors AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health, and McKesson (More)


> Alphabet (Google) quarterly revenues up 32% over last year, shares up 8%; company plans a 20-for-1 stock split (More) | Starbucks sees sales grow but delivers lower margins with rising prices and worker wages, shares down 4% (More) | General Motors’ autonomous driving business Cruise raises another $1.35B from SoftBank Vision Fund as it opens robotaxi service in San Francisco (More)  

Politics & World Affairs

> Pfizer and BioNTech apply for authorization of their COVID-19 vaccine in children under age 5 (More) | See US COVID-19 stats here (More)


> US national debt tops $30T; milestone comes years earlier than projected, driven by pandemic-related spending (More) | See our expert-curated resources on the federal budget here (More)


> Sen. Ben Ray Luján (D-NM) suffers stroke, undergoes surgery for brain swelling; expected to make full recovery (More) | Two officers shot and killed at Virginia's Bridgewater College (More)



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Visualizing the global debt.


Flying into Beijing's Olympic bubble.


... and what the US public thinks about China.


Desert snow tops the month's best science images.


Scientists confirm a 500-mile-long lightning bolt.


Photos capture the nightlife of plants.


Memories from the set of "Forrest Gump."


Fortune cookie guides North Carolina man to $4M.


Clickbait: Why did the chicken cross the road? To steal top-secret information.


Historybook: New Amsterdam (present-day New York) becomes a city (1653); First Groundhog Day celebrated (1887); First Groundhog Day celebrated (1887); First Groundhog Day celebrated (1887); HBD Shakira (1977); RIP Hollywood legend Gene Kelly (1996); Philip Seymour Hoffman dies of drug overdose (2014).


"You should be serious about what you do because this is it—this is the only life you've got."

- Philip Seymour Hoffman

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