Family angry over Imperial Sugar report

By Melanie Ruberti - bio | email

SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - Sadie Brown's 42-year-old son, Lorne Gilbert, still suffers from a serious head injury he received the night of the Imperial Sugar Explosion. "He's in a lot of pain," Sadie explained. "He takes 13 or 14 pills everyday."

But those pills can't erase the memory of that night for Lorne. " He can't stand noises," Sadie said." He can't rest at night. He has horrible flashbacks."

They're so bad, he refused to hear the outcome from the Chemical Safety Board meeting on Thursday. But Sadie did and she's angry. Especially when she heard the CSB announce the explosion could have been prevented.

"You're going to tell me you're going to see sugar sitting on the beams, you're going to see sugar on the floor, and just ask the employees to sweep it up?"she exclaimed. "It was their responsibility to go to that plant, clean it up, whether it needed it or not. It could have been avoided!"

At Thursday night's hearing, Ralph Clements, vice president of manufacturing for Imperial Sugar, said they're already completing some of the recommendations made by the CSB. "We are confident we will meet or exceed all of the recommendations prior to the operations being fully resumed," he stated. "In fact, as we rebuild the Port Wentworth facility, we are working with top experts in the country in the areas of combustible dust and general safety. We intend to set the standard for our industry."

But that statement is little comfort for Sadie and her son. The explosion left him permanently disabled. "He will probably never be able to work again," Sadie said. "At 42. His life is over."

Port Wentworth refinery managers knew as early as 1967 something catastrophic could happen at the plant. The CSB said their knowledge and action could have avoided the blast, and Lorne Gilbert's pain, altogether.

"My question to them is," was it worth it?" Because it was not worth it to me," Sadie said. "It's not worth it to see my son hold his head. Or see me having to put a cold compress on his head to calm him down. Or to calm his pain. I cry every night. I say ' Lord, let my son get better.' But there's no better for him. There is no better."

While the CSB report didn't bring the family any closure, Sadie hopes it will inspire the company to continue taking care of its workers. She believes some compensation will make victims lives easier, but it will never be the same, before the plant exploded.

"We just need to give ourselves to the Lord," she said. "And ask him to help those who are injured, those who have died, and Imperial Sugar employers to make sure this doesn't happen again."

Sadie Brown's son, Lorne, is part of a lawsuit against Imperial Sugar. The family says they may also file separately.

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