Community Reacts to Sugar Plant Explosion; WTOC Obtains First 911 Calls

A frantic caller tells 911 dispatch a building exploded and people are on fire.
A frantic caller tells 911 dispatch a building exploded and people are on fire.

PORT WENTWORTH, GA (WTOC) - A man, understandably hysterical, tells 911 to send all fire units. "A building blew up," screamed the man.

Intense and scary.

Those are the first words to describe the 911 calls received just after the Imperial Sugar Refinery exploded.

After the first call, more calls started flooding the 911 center. Some, mis-identifying where the explosion happened, saying it was at a nearby power plant.

We know now, it was the sugar refinery, and it rocked the nearby community.

"Our entire house shook as if it was our house that blew up," Rebecca Doty told WTOC.

Rebecca lives 200 yards away.

"It was terrifying, she said. "We knew something big had exploded."

"It just blew up," a man says on the first call made to 911 about the explosion. "I need all fire units to the sugar refinery, it just blew up. It's on full fire. It blew up."

At 7:17 pm Thursday, 911 received their first report of the explosion.

"Oh my God, everyone is on fire up there, oh my God," the 911 caller said.

"It was like walking into hell," Joyce baker told WTOC. "All that fire continuously on like a volcanic stream of fire it continued."

Joyce and her husband, Lt. Alan Baker, were first on the scene, witnessing the burnt employees. Minutes earlier, they we at a meeting nearby and also felt the explosion.

"We looked at the sugar mill, we saw sparks, we saw flames shooting into the air hundreds of feet in the sky, and the ground shook," she said.

"It's traumatic to see, no doubt about it," Memorial Health's Jay Goldstein said.

As dozens of workers were brought to nearby Memorial and St. Joseph's/Candler, an eerie shot from the WTOC Mobile Skycam caught the army of gurneys lined up for a mass emergency medical response.

"It's the situation were are in, just trying to realize what we got out there," Goldstein said.

"There were 3 or 4 men sitting there, and they were badly burned," Joyce said, talking about the scene of the explosion.

As a fleet of ambulances did their best to transport victims for treatment, attempts to get the blaze under control continued.

By morning, everyone had a better handle on what had happened. It was a fatal event, many were injured, but in tragedy, the community has come together to try and help.

"I'm very happy to see the outpouring," Rebecca said.

Four people have been confirmed dead.

Reported by: Don Logana,