Crews dumping water from the air to battle unstable hotspots from 4-day-old sugar fire

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Associated Press Writer

PORT WENTWORTH, Ga. (AP) -- A helicopter hovered in a clear blue sky Monday and dumped 250 gallons of river water onto a gutted sugar refinery where six workers died and two remained missing from an explosion that continued to burn.

White smoke wafted from the disaster after the drop, and the yellow helicopter headed back to the Savannah River, refilled its hopper and returned with another watery load in a scene repeated every two minutes.

One of the Imperial Sugar refinery's three 100-foot storage silos blew up late Thursday, with exploding sugar dust the likely culprit. Dozens of workers were injured, but fire crews couldn't search for the missing two because hotspots rendered areas of the plant dangerously unstable.

Sand will be used to take on the 4-day-old fire if water drops don't work, said Capt. Matt Stanley from the fire department in nearby Savannah.

Mounds of sugary sludge that poured out of two silos had solidified in places, making a sticky, concrete-like mixture that had to be cut with power tools. Search crews found the body of one of three missing workers Sunday before the search was called of at sunset for the other two.

Dump trucks filled with sand, cranes and other ground emergency vehicles were parked in neat rows about 300 yards from the refinery Monday so the smoldering fire could be fought from the air. A heap of twisted, burned girders, metal and other debris was piled nearby.

"There have been no reports of any other unaccounted for employee or contract employee for Imperial Sugar," Stanley said. "So we have no reason to believe there would be any more than the original eight that were unaccounted for."

As the white smoke rose from the damaged plant beyond a line of oaks, two cadaver dogs waited to begin their grim work.

"We're conducting helicopter operations to make sure the fire is completely out," said Tracy Sergeant, who heads the Georgia Body Recovery Team. "Once the area is rendered safe, we will go in and start searching with the dogs."

Seventeen workers remained hospitalized Monday -- 16 in critical condition with severe burns -- said Beth Frits of the Joseph M. Still Burn Center in Augusta.


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