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Two Effingham men still critical after blast
Search, firefighting continue at ravaged Imperial Sugar refinery
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Two Effingham County men are continuing the fight for recovery after being hurt in Thursday night’s explosion at the Imperial Sugar refinery in Port Wentworth.

Paul Seckinger of Clyo and Justin Purnell of Eden are listed in critical condition at the Joseph M. Still Jr. Burn Center at Doctor’s Hospital in Augusta, according to burn center spokeswoman Beth Frits.

In all, 44 workers were hurt and 20 were taken to burn treatment centers in Augusta. Seventeen are in either critical or serious condition and three were released from the hospital Sunday. Approximately 100 workers were in the refinery at the time of the explosion.

Purnell and Seckinger were airlifted to the Still Burn Center on Thursday night after a silo at the refinery exploded and a resulting fire swept through the plant. Officials have confirmed six people were killed in the blast and fire and two others are still missing.

Imperial Sugar CEO John Sheptor said sugar dust, which can be combustible, may be the cause of the explosion.

Fire officials believe they have extinguished 95 percent of the blaze, but hot spots and the now hardened masses of sugar have made it difficult. Also, the structure has been weakened greatly and there is a threat of further collapses.

“The area next to the silos we can’t get to until we begin debris removal and suppress the fires inside the silo,” Port Wentworth Fire Chief Greg Long said.

A crew specializing in fighting fires in silos is being brought in from Texas.

Sheptor said Monday that the company intends to rebuild the plant and an engineering team will be assessing what will be needed and how long it will take. He said refinery employees will continue to receive pay and benefits as long as the plant is shut down.

“We’re committed to the employees for as long as it takes,” he said.

Workers recovered the sixth body Sunday just after 5 p.m. Savannah-Chatham Metropolitan Police Department forensics investigators sent the body to the Georgia Bureau of Identification for autopsy and identification.

The Chatham County Unified Command System had intended to tell the members of the eight families about the sixth body on Monday morning but news of the discovery broke before they could meet with the families.

In a written statement, officials said “Savannah-Chatham Police Chief Michael Berkow and Chief Long, along with members of the Unified Command, wish to express their deepest apologies to those who had to hear of the most recent discovery through the media.  The unconfirmed release inadvertently originated from the State Insurance and Fire Commissioner’s Office out of Atlanta.”

Two blood drives will be held Wednesday, at the Food Lion on Highway 21 in Port Wentworth and at First Baptist Church of Port Wentworth on Pinehurst Place. The drives will be conducted from noon-6 p.m.

Imperial Sugar also has set up a donation fund for victims of the explosion. Information for the ISC Savannah Associate Relief Fund can be found at the company’s Web site,

Also, United Way and SunTrust Bank will be accepting financial donations for the families that have been impacted by this disaster.  Checks should be made payable to United Way and include a notation of Imperial Sugar victims.