Dixie Crystal Plant Explosion
Since 1917 the refinery at Port Wentworth, Georgia, had been producing sugar. On the night of February 7, 2008, something went wrong in the plant. With 118 workers inside the plant, mostly from Port Wentworth and nearby Garden City, a massive explosion shook the earth for miles.
Inside the plant workers scrambled for cover, one dove under a desk to protect himself from falling debris, another catapulted through a hole in the wall that had not been there seconds before. Emergency crews set up a triage center near the wreckage, sending most victims to Savannah-area hospitals while transporting the most serious burn victims to Joseph H. Still Burn Center at Doctors Hospital in Augusta.
Through it all the emergency crews kept track of the number and by mid-afternoon on Friday police and firemen began a search and rescue mission for the 8 workers who remained unaccounted. Meanwhile, Chief Executive Officer and president John C. Sheptor of Imperial Sugar, which owns the plant, announced to workers that they would continue to draw pay while the company decided its future course. Sheptor later told the press "The Imperial family is devastated by this heartbreaking event. Our constant thoughts and prayers are with our injured coworkers, their families and all our associates. We are touched by the level of concern and the outpouring of support shown by the local community and are grateful for the superb response by the local emergency agencies as well as the medical team in Augusta."
The explosion that occurred in or near the bagging room, deep inside the eight-story tall silo next to the Savannah River injured 40 workers and would eventually claim 13 lives. Email exchanges between Imperial Sugar Vice-President Graham H. Graham and other company officials indicate Imperial Sugar was in the process of cleaning up the facilities when the Georgia blast occurred.
In April, 2008 Imperial Sugar announced they would rebuild the plant.
In July, 2008 the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) fined Imperial Sugar Co. $8.8 million for workplace-safety violations at two of the company's plants following the February explosion at the Georgia Dixie Crystals refinery. The violations related to combustible sugar dust at the Port Wentworth plant, site of the February explosion, and another in Louisiana.
After completing an investigation of the blast site and an inspection at a similar Imperial Sugar plant in Gramercy, La., OSHA decided to cite the company for 108 "willful violations" related to combustible dust. The fine is the third largest ever imposed by the agency. A unit of BP PLC was fined $21.4 million in 2005, and IMC Fertilizer Inc. was fined $11.3 million in 1991, both for explosions.
In its citation, OSHA said inspectors found "large accumulations of combustible sugar dust in workrooms, on electrical motors and other equipment." Imperial Sugar officials, it added, "were well aware of these conditions, but they took no action reasonably directed at reducing the obvious hazards." Imperial Sugar, of Sugar Land, Texas, said it would challenge the citations and corresponding fine. "We believe that the facts do not merit the allegations made," the company said.