At least 4 [UPDATE : Toll is 5 as of 2/10/2008. ] plant employees are missing. More than 30 — many with severe burns — are taken to hospitals. Volatile dust was blamed Friday in an explosion that leveled a sugar refinery, and crews pulled four bodies from tunnels beneath the mangled mass of metal and beams.At least four people known to be inside when the explosion occurred were missing. Savannah Police Sgt. Mike Wilson said no attempts would be made to search for the dead until today, when heavy equipment will be brought in to remove debris.Search efforts were slowed by the instability of what was left of the Imperial Sugar Co. refinery, which was gutted by flames and racked by the blast. Anxious families of the night-shift workers gathered at the Catholic parish hall across the street and wept as officials relayed grim news from the plant.Investigators were unable to determine what sparked the explosion as firefighters battled flames inside the vast refinery — a network of warehouses, silos and buildings eight stories tall connected by corridors of sheet metal.
Imperial President John C. Sheptor said sugar dust in a silo where refined sugar was stored before being packaged probably ignited like gunpowder. Sugar dust can become combustible if it’s too dry and builds up a static electric charge.
The result was as devastating as a bomb. Floors inside the plant collapsed, flames spread throughout the refinery, girders buckled into twisted heaps and shredded sheet metal littered the wreckage.
“There was fire all over the building,” said Nakishya Hill, a machine operator who escaped from the third floor of the refinery uninjured but for blisters on her elbow. “All I know is, I heard a loud boom and everything came down. All I could do when I got down was take off running.”
More than 30 employees were taken to hospitals as ambulances lined up a dozen at a time outside the refinery’s sole entrance road.
Too much sugar can make you overweight. That can lead to diabetes which kills perhaps 3.8 million people per year. Who knew sugar could explode?