Three still missing in refinery

PORT WENTWORTH, Ga. - Search crews found no trace Sunday of three workers still missing in the smoldering remnants of a sugar refinery explosion Thursday that left five people dead and injured dozens more.

Officials called off the search at sunset, but had not yet searched a part of the Imperial Sugar plant that was still burning and where the buildings were dangerously unstable.

Sugar still burning in two of the refinery's three badly damaged, 100-foot storage silos threatened to weaken the towering structures to the point of collapsing if the fire wasn't extinguished soon, Fire Chief Greg Long said.

He said firefighters hoped to smother the silo fires today by using construction cranes to dump sand into silos. One of the silos blew up late Thursday, possibly after combustible sugar dust ignited.

Chief Long said search crews had covered 95 percent of the massive refinery. While more bodies were not recovered, he said it was unlikely company officials were wrong to believe three more workers remained inside.

"They have used dilligence in getting me the exact number of people," said Chief Long, who knows the missing workers personally.

Chief Long said the areas that had not yet been searched were on the first floor of a building near the explosion, including a break room, where upper floors had collapsed.

Mounds of sugary sludge pouring out of the silos Sunday were solidifying, creating another obstacle to the recovery efforts. A firefighter said his search team had to use power tools to tear down a door glued shut by sticky sludge.

"As you've got sugar that's crystalizing and running down the chutes, it's like concrete," Savannah-Chatham County police Sgt. Mike Wilson said.

Strong winds coming off the Savannah River made conditions even more hazardous for crews trying to prevent the silos and plant buildings from collapsing, Savannah Fire Capt. Matt Stanley said.

Meanwhile, none of the five recovered bodies have been positively identified, said Savannah-Chatham County police Detective Josh Hunt.

Detective Hunt said investigators have asked families for medical and dental records and any information about specific medical conditions, broken bones or surgeries the workers might have had to help identify the bodies.

"Unfortunately, due to the severity of this disaster, it's going to be a difficult conclusion to reach," he said.

Imperial Sugar was one of the largest and oldest employers in this city of 5,000. The vast refinery was a network of warehouses, silos and buildings eight stories tall connected by corridors of sheet metal.

Imperial officials have said sugar dust in a silo used to store refined sugar before packaging likely ignited like gunpowder.


Three of the workers injured in the explosion were released from the Joseph M. Still Burn Center at Doctors Hospital on Sunday, spokeswoman Beth Frits said.

Seventeen workers remained in critical condition at the burn center, she said.

Ms. Frits said she could not provide the names of the patients released Sunday.