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Published: Thursday, 2/7/2008

Dozens hurt in sugar refinery explosion, fire in Georgia

ASSOCIATED PRESS

PORT WENTWORTH, Ga. An explosion shook a sugar refinery Thursday night, starting a huge fire and severely injuring dozens of people in a blast felt throughout this Savannah suburb, authorities said. No deaths were immediately reported.

There was no immediate word on what caused the blast at the Imperial Sugar plant, formerly Dixie Crystals, a Savannah landmark.

Sgt. Mike Wilson, spokesman for the Savannah-Chatham County police, reported an unconfirmed number of injuries, well over 50 to 100 at this point.

Dr. Jay Goldstein of Memorial University Medical Center said 30 to 35 patients were being treated, all in critical condition. Candler Hospital reported three patients in serious condition.

A triage center was set up at Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church in Port Wentworth, where Savannah-Chatham police Maj. Gerry Long said 28 had been sent on to hospitals.

They are still looking for and bringing people out, she said about 9:30 p.m.

Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Kevin Lynn said shipping was shut down on the Savannah River while the waterway was searched for possible victims.

It s a large facility, and there is still a significant amount of fire, said Clayton Scott, assistant director of the Chatham County Emergency Management Agency.

Nakishya Hill, a machine operator who said she escaped from the third floor of the refinery, near the Savannah River, described fire all over the building.

All I know is, I heard a loud boom and everything came down, said Hill, who was uninjured except for blisters on her elbow.

When I got up, I went down and found a couple of people and we climbed out of there from the third floor to the first floor. Half of the floor was gone. The second floor was debris, the first floor was debris.

All I could do when I got down was take off running, she said.

Imperial Sugar, based in Sugar Land, Texas, acquired Savannah Foods & Industries, which produced Dixie Crystals, in 1997. The acquisition doubled the size of the company, making it the largest processor and refiner of sugar in the country, according to the company Web site.

Imperial markets some of the country s leading consumer brands Imperial, Dixie Crystals and Holly as well as supplying sugar and sweetener products to industrial food manufacturers.

Read more in later editions of The Blade and toledoblade.com



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