PORT WENTWORTH, Ga. (AP) A wrecking ball slammed into one of three towering sugar silos June 24 as Imperial Sugar cleared the site of a February explosion at its refinery near Savannah that killed 13 workers and injured dozens more.
Imperial Sugar began demolition in June and plans to rebuild the silos and adjacent sugar packaging building that were destroyed in the Feb. 7 explosion and fire.
Chunks of concrete hung from twisted steel rebar as a crane repeatedly swung the 7,000-lb. (3,175 kg) ball against the reinforced concrete wall of the 100-ft. (30 m) storage silo.
“Several people have indicated to me it’s a passage from the old to the new and a significant sign of the progress we’re making to rebuild,” said Brian Harrison, the Imperial Sugar vice president overseeing the rebuilding effort.
An initial investigation traced the explosion to sugar dust that ignited like gunpowder in a basement area beneath the silos, where sugar was loaded onto conveyor belts and transported to the packaging area.
The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the U.S. Chemical Safety Board, which investigates industrial accidents, are still conducting their final investigation.
The silo demolition will give federal investigators a chance to get into the area where the blast originated. OSHA spokeswoman Sharon Worthy said damage from the explosion left the silos unsafe to enter.
OSHA has to complete its report within six months of the explosion, so its investigators will need to wrap up their work by Aug. 7.
Four refinery workers remain hospitalized with severe burns at the Joseph M. Still Burn Center in Augusta, spokeswoman Olena Scarboro said June 24. Three remained in critical condition, while the fourth was in good condition.
Sugar Land, Texas-based Imperial Sugar last month said the explosion was the main reason for a $15.5 million loss in the first quarter of 2008.
One of the silos still contains about 2.8 million lbs. (1.27 million kg) of fire-hardened sugar that was visible through a hole in the 18-in.-thick (46 cm) concrete wall. The sugar looked like a cream-colored wall of rock, with pieces crumbling to dust as the wrecking ball whacked the silo next to it.
Another silo has about 500,000 lb. (227,000 kg) of sugar inside, Harrison said. A crane will scoop out the sugar with a giant bucket, he said, and the company will see if it can be recycled for use in ethanol, but not as food.
The Port Wentworth refinery, the second largest in the U.S., is on track to resume refining raw sugar before the end of year, Harrison said. The new packaging plant and silos should be completed by summer 2009.