Refinery Fire Still Burning, Company Plans to Reopen - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

Refinery Fire Still Burning, Company Plans to Reopen

A helicopter drops 250-gallon buckets of water on the smoldering silos. A helicopter drops 250-gallon buckets of water on the smoldering silos.
Imperial Sugar refinery, Port Wentworth. Imperial Sugar refinery, Port Wentworth.

PORT WENTWORTH, GA (WTOC) - Crews have recovered a sixth body from the scene of Thursday's devastating sugar refinery fire. The body was recovered during operations Sunday night.

"Our concerns are with the families and make sure we do this right for them and put minds at ease so when say this is their loved one that there is no questions," medical examiner Jamie Downs said.

So far none of those killed have been identified.

Emergency personnel have been searching for missing victims since shortly after the Imperial Sugar refinery suffered a massive explosion and fire last week.

After four days, two of the sugar storage silos are still burning. Emergency crews cleared the scene and brought out a helicopter to drop 250-gallon buckets of water on the silos. They dropped nearly a hundred buckets today, but the fire is not yet out.

"As long as it continues, it continues to weaken structures, so we've got to get the heat out of there and that's or primary focus," said Capt. Matt Stanley with Savannah Fire and Rescue. "There is some risk of catastrophic failure with the silos, cause they're already weakened. That's why we evacuated everybody. The only people that are even remotely in that area are the helicopter operators themselves."

While they dropped the water on the two silos, emergency crews and the Georgia Recovery teams stood by and watched and waited till they could go back in.

Tracy Sargent was one of them. "It is a large facility with dangers and debris," Sargent said. "We are accustomed to disaster, but there is a lot of metal and debris and we want to make sure it is safe before we enter, and it's a unique challenge because of the size and complexity."

The plant has suffered eight structural collapses so far, and crews have searched 95 percent of the complex. They're now waiting for the silo fires to be extinguished before continuing to search for the two people believed to remain unaccounted for.

Thermal imaging showed the fires in the silos burning in excess of 4,000 degrees, prompting fears of more collapses. Sugar stored in the silos is burning far as 12 feet down in places.

At an afternoon news conference, the CEO of Imperial Sugar, John Sheptor, answered one of the biggest questions: will they rebuild in Port Wentworth?

"We have begun putting together an engineering team to make an assessment to see what it would require for us to restart the plant here," he said. "The estimates are we have approximately 12 percent damage to the factory proper."

Sheptor says they intend to rebuild, barring something unforeseen.

There will be a suppression team coming in tomorrow morning from North Carolina, which specializes in silo fires. They have equipment that can pump 5,000 gallons of water per minute. Crews are on standby until the fire is out to start searching for the two people that have not yet been accounted for.

ABOUT THE INJURED
Forty-four people were injured in the blast. Twenty were flown to burn centers in Augusta. Three of those have been released, while 16 remain in critical condition and one has been upgraded to serious.

Reported by: Brooke Kelley, bkelley@wtoc.com

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