Area Mourns Victims in Georgia Sugar Refinery Blast
It's been two weeks since the Imperial Sugar refinery in Port Wentworth, Ga., exploded. The Feb. 7 fire at the plant just outside Savannah, burned for seven days.
Federal investigators have been on the scene, and this week, funerals were held for the last of nine employees who died as a result of the fire.
Father Michael Kavanaugh, pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church just across the street from the plant, remembers the sound of the explosion.
"It was just one big, very deep boom," Kavanaugh says.
The front of the church was set up as a triage area after the explosion.
"We brought tables out. They were hanging the saline bottles from the pear trees in front of the church," Kavanaugh says.
Eight died in the explosion. Dozens were injured and one worker died later in the hospital. Sixteen people still remain hospitalized with extensive burns.
Sam Boyd has worked at the sugar plant for 26 years. He didn't work that night, but he ended up helping some of the injured — including many of his friends — outside the plant.
He says he's still in shock over the explosion.
"I went to doctor the other day and he give me something to sleep, and I had to take one of them. Don't seem to help any. I just sit there and toss and turn," Boyd says.
Sugar Dust the Likely Cause
The fire raged in the silos for a week and burned as high as 4,000 degrees. When it was finally extinguished, the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives conducted an investigation and found no criminal wrongdoing.
Officials say sugar dust is the likely cause.
John Sheptor, head of Imperial Sugar, says it's still too early to know for sure.
"The cause has not been determined. It has all evidences of a dust explosion, and I think the data is being collected to validate that assumption," Sheptor says.
The company hired a team of engineers to assess how much it will cost to repair the facility. Sheptor has vowed to reopen it. In the meantime, Imperial Sugar continues to pay its 370 employees. That has fostered a lot of good will.
At Colony Bay Florist in nearby Garden City, Ga., Susan Brown attaches magnolia leaves to a wreath she has made for a memorial service Saturday in Savannah, Ga. Most of those who work at Imperial Sugar — known here as Dixie Crystals — have lived in this area all their lives. Brown says it's difficult not to think about the families.
"When I use that sugar, I've always thought of these guys, and now, of course when I use my sweet sugar, these guys that help put it in that bag are gone," Brown says. "And the whole plant's gone and the whole community just suffers, so I think it kind of does bring it home."
Mourners have created a memorial to the workers under the Dixie Crystals sign that is in front of the sugar plant. It has nine flags, dozens of wreaths and a note that reads, in part, "We think of you every day."
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