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Refinery blast's toll at 5, with 3 missing

Associated Press
Published February 10, 2008


PORT WENTWORTH, Ga. - Crews on Saturday found another body in the remnants of the sugar refinery plant devastated by an explosion and fire, raising the death toll to five and leaving three others still missing, officials said.

The body was found after crews shored up the plant's wobbly remnants, fire Chief Greg Long said. Before the body was found, three workers and a supervisor were believed to be missing.

"We operate on the policy that everyone is alive until we get to them," Long said.

The search was expected to be suspended for the night and resume again today.

Crews re-entered what is left of the Imperial Sugar Co. refinery after stabilizing the upper floors of a four-story building. They needed access to that building to gain entry to an 80-foot silo that rescuers wanted to search for the men, Long said.

Earlier Saturday, Long said firefighters all but extinguished the fire that had raged in the refinery since the explosion, allowing teams to resume searching for the missing men.

"We have an idea of where they are," Long said. "We didn't want to collapse anything."

Imperial president and CEO John Sheptor said sugar dust in a silo used to store refined sugar before packaging likely ignited like gunpowder. Sugar dust can be combustible if it's too dry and builds up a static electric charge.

The result was as devastating as a bomb. Floors in the plant collapsed, flames spread throughout the refinery, metal girders buckled into twisted heaps, and shredded sheet metal littered the wreckage.

More than 30 employees were rushed to hospitals. Several were taken to a burn center in Augusta, 130 miles up the Savannah River. Many were in critical condition, including some who were placed on ventilators, said Dr. William Wessinger, the medical director at Memorial University Medical Center in Savannah. A spokeswoman from the Savannah hospital said Saturday that the last of nine workers treated there had been released.

[Last modified February 10, 2008, 01:21:03]

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