Firefighters used helicopters to dump Savannah River water onto smoldering hotspots that have stalled the search for two workers who were still missing Monday, four days after a deadly explosion at a 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 Imperial Sugar refinery’s three 100-foot storage silos blew up late Thursday, possibly after combustible sugar dust ignited. Fire crews still haven’t been able to search part of the plant that was still burning and was dangerously unstable.
Crews also were considering dumping sand on the smoldering structure later in the day.
There have been plenty of obstacles to firefighting efforts, including the sugar itself. Mounds of sugary sludge pouring out of the silos on Sunday solidified. A firefighter said his search team had to use power tools to tear down a door glued shut by sticky sludge.
Burnt sugar 'like concrete'
“As you’ve got sugar that’s crystallizing and running down the chutes, it’s like concrete,” Savannah-Chatham County police Sgt. Mike Wilson said.
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, Fire Chief Greg Long said.
Long said search crews had covered 95 percent of the massive refinery. 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.
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 Monday — 16 in critical condition with severe burns — said Beth Frits of the Joseph M. Still Burn Center in Augusta. One was upgraded to serious condition Monday and three others were released Sunday, Frits said.