Inside Dixie Crystals: A Former Worker's Perspective - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

Inside Dixie Crystals: A Former Worker's Perspective

PORT WENTWORTH, GA (WTOC) - More than 90 years ago, Dixie Crystals pumped life into Port Wentworth. Aside from new ownership--it's now Imperial Sugar--not much had changed in the last few years. Now, some wonder if the plant will be able to come back.

"I see total destruction," Richard Hicks said.

Hicks worked at Dixie Crystals in the late '60s and early '70s as an oiler and boilermaker.

"I made the troughs, made the piping," he said. "Every pipe has a filter."

Hicks prefers looking back on the good old days rather than last week's tragedy. "It was a nice place to work, everybody helped everybody," he said. "It was like one big family."

Watching the video of WTOC's tour of the plant, Hicks pointed out what machines did what, what buildings were which. From then to now, Hicks explained aerial views from a thermal imaging camera where the plant continues burning: "These are the silos, and this is the elevator that brought sugar up to the silos from the processing floor."

He wants to be optimistic about the sugar refinery's future. "The high end part of the plant is still intact, some of the shipping and processing still looks good," he said.

But Hicks says complete optimism can be deceiving, particularly reports of only 12 percent of the plant being destroyed by the fire. "That 12 percent is 100 percent of the packing room," he said. "It does at least 90 to 95 percent of the work."

He says workers were always conscious of potential danger. "The least little spark could set it off. They had to be very careful. They had a very good stringent safety program."

Now, Hicks hopes the rich history of Dixie Crystals will be able to be preserved. He's not sure.

"Quite a sizeable investment," he called it.

Imperial Sugar officials say they have full intentions to start the plant back up, if they can. Once all of the fires are out, they hope to have structural engineers come in and assess the damage.

Reported by: Don Logana, dlogana@wtoc.com

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