Firefighters hoped a dose of sand would finally extinguish smoldering fires that have stalled the search for two workers still missing, four days after a deadly explosion at a Georgia sugar refinery.
Search crews found the body of one of three missing workers on Sunday before the search was called of at sunset, Insurance and Safety Fire Commissioner John Oxendine said. That pushed the death toll to six, with dozens more injured.
One of the refinery’s three 100-foot (30-meter) storage silos blew up late Thursday, possibly after combustible sugar dust ignited. Fire Chief Greg Long said firefighters hoped to smother the fires by using construction cranes to dump sand into the silos.
Officials have not yet searched part of the Imperial Sugar plant that was still burning and where buildings were dangerously unstable.
The burning sugar in the two silos threatens to weaken the towering structures to the point of collapsing if the fire isn’t extinguished soon, Long said.
Long said search crews had covered 95 percent of the massive refinery. Long said it was unlikely company officials had miscounted the number of missing workers.
The areas that had not yet been searched were on the first floor of a building near the explosion, including a break room, where upper floors had collapsed, Long said.
Mounds of sugary sludge pouring out of the silos Sunday was solidifying, creating another obstacle to the recovery. A firefighter said his search team had to use power tools to tear down a door glued shut by sticky sludge.
“As you’ve got sugar that’s crystalizing and running down the chutes, it’s like concrete,” Savannah-Chatham County police Sgt. Mike Wilson said.
Strong winds coming off the Savannah River made conditions even more hazardous for crews trying to prevent the silos and plant buildings from collapsing, Savannah Fire Capt. Matt Stanley said.
None of the six recovered bodies have been positively identified, said Savannah-Chatham County police Detective Josh Hunt.
Seventeen workers remained hospitalized Sunday in critical condition with severe burns. Three others were released Sunday, said Beth Frits of the Joseph M. Still Burn Center in Augusta.
On the Net:
Imperial Sugar: http://www.imperialsugar.com.
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