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Dozens hurt in Georgia sugar refinery explosion

(CNN) — Dozens of people were injured — many of them critically — in an explosion at a sugar refinery near Savannah, Georgia, Thursday evening, law enforcement and medical officials said.

The blast at Imperial Sugar in Port Wentworth, Georgia, happened at about 7 p.m.

Georgia Emergency Management Agency spokesman Buzz Weiss said hospitals were told to prepare for as many as 100 casualties from the explosion. At least one witness estimated that 200 people were inside the refinery at the time of the blast.

By just after 11 p.m., about 40 workers from the plant were being treated at area hospitals, according to Savannah-Chatham Metropolitan Police Department Chief Michael Berkow.

Search efforts were ongoing for another six workers believed to be still missing inside the plant, he said.

Dr. Jay Goldstein, an emergency room doctor at Memorial Health, said many of the victims treated through a triage area set up at the hospital were in critical condition.

We’ve seen people that have had burns to their hands all the way to about 80 to 90 percent of their body, he said.

Goldstein said some of the victims were being carried by helicopter to the Joseph M. Still Burn Center in Augusta, Georgia — about an hour away.

Another five were being treated at St. Joseph’s/Candler Hospital in Savannah, a spokeswoman there said. Two had been released by late Thursday.

There were no immediate reports of fatalities.

Savannah-Chatham Metropolitan Police spokeswoman Maj. Gerri Long said damage at the refinery was extensive and that rescuers were still removing victims from the building.

Savannah Fire Department officials said they were still fighting the fire at the plant at 10 p.m. Watch emergency workers converge on the scene

Capt. Matt Stanley, of the Savannah Fire Department, said the explosion is believed to have started in a room where workers bag sugar. He said no cause had been determined by late Thursday.

It was like walking into hell, said Joyce Baker, who was with her husband, a Port Wentworth police officer, at a meeting at nearby city hall, at the time of the explosion.

Witnesses in neighboring towns and across the Savannah River in South Carolina reported hearing the blast and seeing flames shoot up several stories.

A machine operator who told The Associated Press she was on the third floor of the refinery described terrifying moments after the blast.

All I know is, I heard a loud boom and everything came down, said Nakishya Hill, according to the AP.

When I got up, I went down and found a couple of people and we climbed out of there from the third floor to the first floor. Half of the floor was gone. The second floor was debris, the first floor was debris, she said.

All I could do when I got down was take off running.

The damage at the refinery was extensive,, said Savannah-Chatham Metropolitan Police spokeswoman Maj. Gerri Long.

As family members flocked to the sugar plant, a church across the street was set up for them to wait for their loved ones. Police were urging them to only send one family member to avoid massive crowds at the site.

We’ve got so many family members out here just desperate to hear a word from their loved ones, Baker told CNN affiliate WTOC-TV in Savannah.

The U.S. Coast Guard said it had closed the Savannah River around the port and that Coast Guard helicopters were searching the river for anyone who might have been thrown into the water.

Ambulances and emergency workers from 12 counties had been called in to assist at the scene, said Georgia Emergency Management Agency spokesman Buzz Weiss.

The refinery, formerly Dixie Crystal, is the major employer in Port Wentworth, which is just northwest of Savannah. E-mail to a friend

Copyright 2008 CNN. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Associated Press contributed to this report.

Dozens hurt in Georgia sugar refinery explosion – found here.

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February 8, 2008 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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