PORT WENTWORTH, GA (WTOC) - As long as the investigation continues into the exact cause of the explosion at the Imperial Sugar refinery, the debris from the blast and what's left of the Port Wentworth plant remains eerily untouched.
For the first time, we were allowed just a few feet away from the building that literally blew apart in the blast, 300 yards closer than TV cameras have ever been allowed before.
It's a rare look for the public, but Imperial Sugar CEO John Sheptor has stood in this spot and stared into the wreckage countless times since February 7. "For myself I will always remember where I was standing and what our people have lived through," Sheptor said.
Whether it's six weeks or six years, Sheptor said the images of this tragedy will stay with him, as will the faces of those who came to help.
Firefighters and rescue crews had to maneuver through a tangled web of twisted metal to search for victims of the blast. So far 13 people have died as a result of the explosion.
Sheptor said while his workers cannot start cleaning up and rebuilding the package facility until OSHA finishes it's investigation, he has noticed a positive change in his crew. "You should see the smiles on their faces when they come back here for the first time," he said. "It really is a relief for them to be called back to work and there's an optimism that builds as we add to the numbers."
There are now 225 employees back to work full time. Most of them are shipping out sugar that's been stored in a warehouse since the night of the explosion.
It's still Sheptor's goal to have this Port Wentworth plant back up and running 100 percent in two years. "We will rebuild this facility to the best knowledge we have with regard to the management of combustible dust, whether that be a regulation or industrial standard and by all means we believe we were operating according to these codes and standards previously," he said.
He said safety of the employees has and will always come first. Sheptor's plans on going to Augusta to spend Easter with the burn victims and their families.
At this point, OSHA investigators suspect the cause of the explosion was sugar dust, it's combustible and somehow ignited. Earlier this week OSHA shut down part of the Imperial Sugar plant in Gramercy, Louisiana because of sugar dust.
Sheptor said he reached an agreement last night with OSHA on how they should clean up the sugar dust in that plant. Sheptor said he should be able to restart the powered sugar facility later next week in Gramercy.