Explosion Victims' Families Speak Out - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

Explosion Victims' Families Speak Out

Jenny Purnell (left) and Karen Seckinger at a news conference at the burn center in Augusta. Jenny Purnell (left) and Karen Seckinger at a news conference at the burn center in Augusta.

SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - It's been an emotional day at the Joseph M. Still Burn Center in Augusta, where 17 of the burn victims from the Imperial Sugar refinery blast remain. Fifteen are in critical condition. Two have been upgraded to serious, but stable condition.

Today, family members spoke out in a news conference WTOC was able to pick up via satellite.

Effingham County native Jenny Purnell immediately knew her husband, Justin, survived the blast. He called her once to tell her he made it out alive. But on his second call she learned he was badly hurt.

"He called me back ten minutes later to let me know he was out," she recounted. "I knew he was out. He then told me he was burned, he told me he was hurting."

To see the devastation, Jenny knows it's amazing Justin made it out at all. He has worked in the refinery maintenance shop. Justin is now burned over 60 percent of his body in the explosion. His hands, Jenny says, are the worst. And it's the only thing she's told their 2-year-old son.

The short conversations Jenny had with Justin are the last time she's heard his voice. But those phone calls are what keep her going now.

"Knowing I did get to talk to him, I did get to tell him, 'I love you,' and he said, 'I love you back,' I was thankful. I don't know how he did it. Looking at him now, I don't know how he did it," she said tearfully.

Justin is now on a ventilator, as is his friend and coworker, 34-year-old Paul Seckinger. Hunting and fishing buddies, both men managed to survive the explosion. Paul's burns are a little worse, covering 80 percent of his body. He communicates by nodding his head and moving his feet.

His mom, Karen, has been by his bedside nonstop. " Just stand there and talk to him. Tell him everything is going to be okay," Karen explained. "Remind him he is not paralyzed. They've given him something to make him be still. He's not blind, his eyes are swollen shut. I reassure him. I tell him stories about his daughter."

Dr. Fred Mullins, the medical director at the Burn Center, says the biggest challenge facing all the victims now is the threat of infection. "It's probably going to be another week to ten days before we see improvement," he said. "Some will get significantly worse. From day to day, things can change rapidly. A lot of people describe it as a roller coaster ride, you have good days and you have bad days."

It's a ride both Jenny and Karen want to get off. Jenny knows there's a long road ahead, but she looks forward to traveling it with Justin by her side.

"We'll get through this together. In the end, it doesn't matter. I'll always be there," she smiled.

Justin and Paul will remain in the burn center for several more months, undergoing skin grafts, surgeries, and physical therapy.

Reported by: Melanie A. Ruberti, mruberti@wtoc.com

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