‘It feels like it just happened’ Sugar refinery survivor shares story

PORT WENTWORTH, Ga. (WSAV) — Ten years after the Imperial Sugar refinery was rocked by loud booms and a massive fireball, a survivor shares his story.

Lorne Gilbert was working the second shift when the event unfolded.

“The sugar pallet game down. I went to pick it up, swung back, backed out, swung around — and that’s when the explosion happened,” Gilbert recalls.

He says the sugar on his forklift actually helped protect him from the blast, but he still had to find a way to escape.

Gilbert had to force his seatbelt open and guide his way through the refinery by the light of his phone.

“I maneuvered through the sugar, slid out of one of the loading bays and was running toward the gate and that’s when you saw the silo which was like a volcano because of the fire, the roaring, the noise,” he says, adding, “People were just running trying to get out.”

The chilling horror would only get worse. Gilbert describes the scene — people yelling and moaning with severe burns.

Gilbert says he’s thankful for where he is, but the recovery has been a day-to-day job.

“I’m still trying to figure out why I was saved,” he says. “You know I had co-workers not 20 feet away from me that passed. I have co-workers that have life-altering injuries.”

Gilbert says as he was running out of the plant, he was able to help two of his coworkers who were injured.

And he has this message for the survivors: “I love you. Even though it’s 10 years, it feels like it just happened. Trust the Lord and trust your faith.”

Gilbert worked at Imperial Sugar for four years. He says dealing with that day is still tough, and he considers going back to therapy.

But he hopes to become a counselor one day to help people deal with similar traumas.

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