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Imperial Sugar Co. Plant Explosion Death Toll Stands at 8

Feb 14, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP

The number of Imperial Sugar Co. plant explosion fatalities rose to 8 today, following the death of an injured worker at burn center in Augusta, Georgia.  Seven other people have been  found dead in the rubble at the plant following the Imperial Sugar Co. plant explosion, and one worker was still missing. Emergency crews had recovered the body of another missing Imperial Sugar Co. worker yesterday.

The Imperial sugar plant explosion occurred at 7:00 p.m. last Thursday in a silo where refined sugar is stored before being packaged. According to news reports, the Imperial Sugar Co. explosion was the result of a “sugar dust explosion”. Plants where a lot of sugar dust is present are classified by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration as “hazardous locations,” the same classification as coal preparation plants and producers of plastics, medicines and fireworks, according to the OSHA Web site. When sugar dust is aerosolized, it can get ionically charged and ignite from just a bit of static electricity. Witnesses in neighboring towns and across the Savannah River in South Carolina reported seeing flames shoot up several stories and hearing the blast.

Fourteen other people burned during the explosion a week ago at the Imperial Sugar Company plant in Port Wentworth remain hospitalized in critical condition. Two others are in serious condition.

Fire crews are still having problems extinguishing the fire sparked by the Imperial Sugar plant explosion.  Mounds of sugary sludge that poured out of two silos had solidified in places, making a sticky, concrete-like mixture that had to be cut with power tools. According to Port Wentworth emergency officials, the fire spread deeper into the sugar silos than first imagined, complicating efforts to put it out. It was initially thought that only the first 3 or 4 feet of sugar in the silo was on fire, but thermal imaging cameras were used to determine that the fire reaches down as deep as 10 or 12 feet. One major concern is that the silos could collapse, an event that would make the plant unsearchable.

Fire crews had had to call in a specialized team with powerful equipment to assault the silo fires, where the thick masses of molten sugar were still smoldering even after a helicopter dumped thousands of gallons of water.

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