Memorial service honors explosion victims

SAVANNAH, Ga. (BP)--About 700 people gathered at the Savannah Civic Center to remember the victims of a sugar refinery blast in a memorial service Feb. 23, the day before an 11th person died from injuries sustained in the tragedy two weeks earlier in nearby Port Wentworth, Ga.

Ten wreaths of white carnations represented the workers who had died at that point. Bible verses were read, a church choir sang and "Amazing Grace" was played on bagpipes, according to a report in the Savannah Morning News.

"I would like to personally say goodbye to these very special men," John Sheptor, CEO of Imperial Sugar Company, said at the service. "They were men of faith. They were good sons. They were loving husbands. And they were caring fathers. They were our friends."

Sheptor was at the refinery the night of the blast Feb. 7, the newspaper said, and at the memorial service he recounted the acts of heroism he witnessed. Two nephews had escaped the fire unharmed, but they went back in to save their uncle and all three suffered injuries, the Morning News said. Others turned off boilers that ended up saving hundreds of lives and will allow the plant to rebuild, Sheptor said.

"There was not much worry about themselves," Jay Goldstein, medical director of Memorial University Medical Center's emergency facility, said at the service, according to the Morning News. "But there was serious worry about their peers, their families and for all of us, the health-care workers. Here they were, in a situation with serious injuries that none of us could ever imagine, and the last person they were thinking of was actually themselves."

Port Wentworth’s mayor, Glenn Jones, asked for a moment of silence in the arena for the families of the workers who died.

"It's going to be tough," Jones said. "But we will come through as a community and as a family to get through this trying time. It's going to take time to get better. But it will."

Richard Ussery, who has worked at the refinery for 17 years, told the Associated Press, "You can ask anybody in Savannah or in the community around Port Wentworth; it definitely affects everybody."

Investigators have determined that the explosion was fueled by airborne sugar dust, but they still don't know what ignited the dust. The 90-year-old refinery burned for a week after the explosion, AP said.

After the 11th death Feb. 24, 14 other patients remain at the Joseph M. Still Burn Center at Doctors Hospital in Augusta. Twelve are in critical condition and two are in serious condition. Some could take months to heal, earlier reports said.

Those who died whose names have been released include Truitt Byers, 54, of Savannah; Michael Kelly Fields, 40, of Rincon; Shelathia Harvey, 31, of Hinesville; Early Quarterman, 55, of Savannah; Byron Singleton, 26, of Ellabell; and Mike Williams, 55, of Savannah, according to AP.


Compiled by Baptist Press staff writer Erin Roach.

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