SAVANNAH — On Saturday afternoon, an estimated 700 Imperial Sugar refinery workers, their family and friends and the men and women of the emergency services who responded to the Feb. 7 explosion gathered in the Savannah Civic Center to remember lives lost and changed in the blast that has since claimed 11 and injured dozens.
The hour and a half program was called “A Community That Remembers.” Family members of those who died or were injured in the blast at the Port Wentworth refinery lined the first few rows of chairs before the podium where choirs sang and Imperial Sugar President and CEO John Sheptor praised the courage of unsung heroes who saved others at the risk of losing their own lives.
Two nephews, Sheptor told the audience, had escaped the blast that night unharmed. They went back into the fire to save an uncle who had been trapped only to sustain injuries as they made their way out with their uncle in tow.
Sheptor spoke of a group of employees who had the foresight to turn off the boilers, saving the plant from further destruction and saving the lives of dozens of their fellow employees.
Sheptor spoke at a microphone that towered over a row of 10 wreaths made of white carnation flowers, with a hard hat placed in the center of the wreaths by a refinery employee during a moment of silence.
“I would like to personally say goodbye to these 10 very special men,” he said. “They were men of faith, they were good sons, they were loving husbands and they were caring fathers. They were our friends.”
Michael “Kelly” Fields, a Rincon resident, was one of those who died as a result of the blast. He died Feb. 14 at the Joseph M. Still Burn Center at Doctors Hospital in Augusta.
Port Wentworth Mayor Glenn Jones told the audience it was going to be tough on the community and families, but they would come together.
“It’s going to take time to get better, but it will,” he said.
The service began with gospel songs performed by Men of Faith and intensified as the First Baptist Church of Port Wentworth choir, local Savannah singer Huxsie Scott and the Jonesville Baptist Church Choir had the audience stand, hold hands and sway to the spiritual songs.
Many of the family members who sat quietly held onto each other and occasionally wiped a tear from their eyes. As the service ended the families who came to find comfort in the service rose from their chairs and left the auditorium wishing not to speak to the media.
Thirteen patients are at the Joseph M. Still Burn Center, with 12 of them listed in critical condition. A patient was released from the hospital Monday afternoon, according to spokesperson Beth Frits.
The 11th fatality from the explosion and fire died late Saturday night.