Imperial Sugar Co. Explosion in Georgia Injures Dozens, Several Still Missing

The Imperial Sugar Co. plant near Savannah, Georgia exploded last night, injuring at least 42 people, some of them critically.  At least six works are still unaccounted for as a result of the  Imperial Sugar Co. plant explosion.  The Imperial Sugar Co. refinery in Port Wentworth is the company’s largest plant, and about 100 workers were on site when the explosion occurred.

Imperial Sugar Co. is the manufacturer of Imperial, Holly and Dixie brand sweeteners.  According to the company, the explosion occurred at 7:00 p.m. last night in a silo, where refined sugar is stored before being packaged.  According to news reports, the Imperial Sugar Co. explosion was the result of a “sugar dust explosion”.   Witnesses in neighboring towns and across the Savannah River in South Carolina reported seeing flames shoot up several stories and hearing the blast.

According to the Atlanta Journal Constitution, emergency personnel spent the first hour following the Imperial Sugar Company explosion pulling people out of the building and struggled to stop the spread of the fire.

“There was fire all over the building,” Nakishya Hill, a machine operator at the Imperial Sugar Plant told the newspaper.  Hill said she escaped from the third floor of the refinery, near the Savannah River.

The Atlanta Journal Constitution also reported that efforts to control the blaze started by the Imperial Sugar Company plant explosion where hampered by water pressure problems.  At about 9 p.m., firefighters were reporting trouble with water pressure and were attempting to tap into a 500,000-gallon water tank on the refinery’s property. About two hours later, with water pressure problems continuing, fire officials decided to divert water from homes along I-95. Tugboats on the nearby Savannah River converged and turned water cannons onto the blaze.

Those injured in the Imperial Sugar Co. explosion were been taken to local hospitals, the Sugar Land, Texas-based company said. Eight were flown to a burns center in Augusta, Georgia.   Some of those injured had burns to their hands, while others had burns on 80-90% of their bodies.

The U.S. Coast Guard said it had closed the Savannah River around the port and that Coast Guard helicopters were searching the river for anyone who might have been thrown into the water. Ambulances and emergency workers from 12 counties had been called in to assist at the scene.

The Imperial Sugar Co. explosion damaged a large portion of the facility, and it has closed for the time being.  The damage made it difficult for fire and rescue workers to enter much of the four-story plant, Savannah Fire Chief Charles Middleton., told CNN.  “Right now, what we’re dealing with is a very unstable structure,” he said.

The refinery, formerly locally owned Dixie Crystals, is based in Sugar Land, Texas, and is the major employer in the riverside town just northwest of Savannah.

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