PORT WENTWORTH, GA (WTOC) - It's been more than 20 months since the explosion at Imperial Sugar and Friday, the Port Wentworth plant celebrated the completion of its final milestone.
Construction on the packaging plant is finally complete, making the sugar refinery fully operational.
The state-of-the-art machinery packages 125, four-pound bags of sugar per minute. But getting to the final product has been a long journey for Imperial Sugar and its employees.
The company has been rebuilding the Port Wentworth plant for almost 22 months. In February, 2008, an explosion destroyed the refinery, killing 14 people and injuring dozens more.
There are already 325 employees back to work at the plant and by next week, Imperial Sugar's staff will be at full capacity as brown and powdered sugar start being shipped across the country.
"What we are starting this week is the powdered sugar and brown sugar production area which are the last two lines to operate in the packaging area," said Imperial Sugar CEO John Sheptor.
Sheptor says safety was the number one concern and he worked with combustible dust experts throughout the entire reconstruction process.
"We've learned a lot in the last two years and studied sugar like it's never been studied before," said Sheptor.
Brian Harrison has overseen the entire reconstruction project "We now have a facility we can operate and we are back in business," said Harrison. "That is great to me."
But it's not just employees who are excited, but also for those who live and work in Port Wentworth like Diane Smith. She works at the church across the street from the refinery Our Lady of Lourdes.
"The fact that when it happened, the community came together," said Smith. "Their job never stopped but I am glad to see they are in operation again."
Employees of the refinery will be giving back to say thank you this weekend in conjunction with the American Red Cross, the Salvation Army and the United Way.
They will be holding a blood drive at the refinery in Port Wentworth from 11am to 4pm on Saturday.