Plant explosion at Savannah factory kills 4 with 4 still missing

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February 8, 2008

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Augusta's Shepeard Blood Center is calling for blood and platelet donations to help the victims of an explosion at a sugar refinery near Savannah. Blood and platelets are both needed. Donating platelets takes about an hour; donating blood takes ten minutes. Blood types A and O are especially rich in platelets.

Click here for donation locations and times.

The victim in the worst shape was burned over 94 percent of the body, head to toe. The Still Burn Center expects people to lose limbs. All of the patients are at least 30 percent burned; several are 70 percent or more, meaning everything except heels, feet, and buttocks.

The victims range in age from around 18 to their mid 50s. Only three of them were conscious at time of writing. Eight to ten surgeries had already been performed, with more to come.

The doctors say the worst is to come; they call the first 24 to 48 hours the "honeymoon stage". Nearly the complete staff of the burn center is working around the clock.

Insurance and Fire Commissioner John Oxendine tells News 12 and CBS affiliate WTOC that six bodies have been found.

Savannah's police chief says a rescue operation at the site of an explosion at Imperial Sugar's Dixie Crystal refinery is now a "recovery" operation. More than 40 people were injured and burned when the plant exploded around 7 o'clock last night.

18 of the victims from the plant are being treated at the Joseph M. Still Burn Center now. 15 of those victims are in critical condition; three are serious. Two additional victims were sent to the Medical College of Georgia hospital. The victims began arriving at 9 o'clock last night, and the last ones arrived at 8 o'clock this morning.

Commissioner Oxendine says at least 107 people were working in the plant at the time of the explosion.

The CEO of Imperial Sugar says it seems to have been a sugar dust explosion that happened in a storage silo where refined sugar is stored until packaging. However, the investigation is not yet complete.

Dozens of people were injured in an explosion and fire at a sugar refinery that was felt by residents throughout the suburb of Port Wentworth last night.

18 burn victims have been brought to the Joseph M. Still Burn Center in Augusta, and two were taken to MCG hospital. Most of them were in critical condition. One burn doctor and 3 of his physician assistants went to Savannah to help.

Shepeard Community Blood Center is prepared to take blood donations for the victims at its four locations. Burn victims usually need massive amounts of blood in their treatment.

Structural damage to the four-story refinery kept firefighters out of it
until early Friday morning. Parts of the building were still on fire, and
the fire department was considering using military helicopters to drop water on the flames.

There is no immediate word of what caused the explosion, which happened at about 7 p.m. Nakishya Hill, a machine operator, says she escaped from the third floor by climbing down to the first. Hill says there was fire all over the building. She heard a loud boom, and when she got up, half of the floor was gone. She says the first and second floors were covered in debris.

Imperial Sugar, based in Sugar Land, Texas, acquired Savannah Foods & Industries, the producer of Dixie Crystals, in 1997. The acquisition doubled the size of the company, making it the largest processor and refiner of sugar in the United States, 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.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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