Police: As Many as 17 May Be Missing in Refinery Blast - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

Police: As Many as 17 May Be Missing in Refinery Blast

Images courtesy of Thomas McDermott. Images courtesy of Thomas McDermott.

PORT WENTWORTH, GA (WTOC) - The fire at the Imperial Sugar refinery which began Thursday night is now contained, but Savannah firefighters and other emergency personnel from around the region are still working to put it out.

In a news conference inside Port Wentworth Elementary School, police are now saying between six and 17 people may be missing.

No deaths have been confirmed. Emergency workers are now conducting recovery operations. Police are meeting with family members.

Video shown from a police helicopter at the conference shows the damage to the six-story storage silo where the explosion happened. Most of the damage came from the fire caused by the explosion. Crews are now battling it with foam, and the fire is 85 percent contained.

Capt. Greg Long of the Port Wentworth FD, which is leading the firefighting efforts, kept the news conference short in order to return to work.

In a news conference starting at 10am with Chief Michael Berkow of the Savannah-Chatham Metropolitan Police Department and Chief Greg Long of the Port Wentworth Fire Department and Chief Charles Milton of Savannah Fire, it was announced that recovery operations were ongoing, and that the heavily damaged structure was very unstable.

Cmdr. David Murk with the US Coast Guard told the public that part of the Savannah River remained closed.

Aerial photos submitted by Lt. James Willingham of the Coast Guard Air Station Savannah show the scene. See: Updated: Sugar Refinery Image Gallery.

The Red Cross is still at the scene of the fire and the Our Lady of the Lourdes Church, which is being used as a comfort area. They have mental health workers at both sites.

The Red Cross says the best way to help is to donate money. See: Red Cross Donation, Volunteering Information.

About 40 workers were injured, many critically, in the blast. According to the Memorial University Medical Center, 33 were treated there. Of those, 19 were taken by helicopter to Augusta to the Joseph M. Still Burn Centers in Augusta and the Medical College of Georgia Burn Center.

"I've never seen anything quite of this magnitude," a nursing supervisor there told WTOC.

Seven of Memorial's patients have been released. Another five were treated at Saint Joseph's/Candler, of which one has been released.

Memorial's own LifeStar was assisted by three helicopters from Hunter Army Airfield and another from the Medical College of Georgia.

Six workers are still unaccounted for.

US Rep. John Barrow (GA-Dist. 12) released the following statement this morning:

"Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims of this accident and their families. I know I speak for all of the citizens in the area in commending the heroes of the fire and rescue departments from all over the region who responded to Port Wentworth's call for help. Their quick and decisive actions saved lives, and we'll always be grateful."

Highway 25, in front of the sugar refinery, is closed. The ports are open to container ship traffic.

Reports show the explosion happened near a storage silo around 7:20pm Thursday. The cause may have been sugar dust.

Imperial Sugar Employees Only
Employees with Imperial Sugar Inc. can call 1.800.746.8972 to find out their schedule for work.  Only employees are able to call this number.

Contact the WTOC News team

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