10 years after explosion in Port Wentworth, community recalls unbelievable support


PORT WENTWORTH, Ga. (WSAV) — People from all over the world were touched by the Imperial Sugar refinery tragedy in 2008.

But former Port Wentworth Mayor Glenn “Pig” Jones was in the middle of his first term in office when the unthinkable happened in his beloved hometown.

“What I saw and what I heard will live with me forever. The sounds, the screams, the shock on my friends’ faces that I’ve been knowing forever,” says Glenn Jones, former Port Wentworth Mayor. “I had a lot of friends there, and I was asking and really no one knew how many.”

Jones quickly learned one of his best friends from high school, Tony Thomas, was among those missing in the massive rubble.

Thomas was a supervisor at the sugar refinery plant. 

“He had went home for the day, he was a day shift employee, and he had to come back to meet some of the corporate people who were coming in that evening to go take a tour,” Jones says. “Tony was the last one that was basically found.”

And in the days and weeks following the tragedy, an unbelievable amount of support rushed into Port Wentworth like a river from people everywhere.

“The outpouring of love and thoughtfulness of so many people from all over Savannah, Bryan County, just unbelievable,” he says.

There were vigils to remember those who lost their lives and blood drives to help victims in the hospital recover. Many churches transformed into staging areas where people came to get anything they needed.

“I remember seeing walls and walls of bottled water, people were bringing drinks, fruits, whatever they can bring in,” he says.

And that type of support didn’t just come from the community — people from around the world also felt the pain of the victims and their families.

They wanted to do something, anything to help.

“It was one of those moments that’s kinda frozen in time,” says Gregg Schroeder, with United Way of the Coastal Empire. “I remember coming in to work the next morning, and gosh, what’s the best way for United Way to help, I really didn’t have a good idea initially,” says Schroeder.

“And, it was actually a phone call from the station manager at WSAV that had a suggestion about trying to get in with the banking network and set up containers for people to contribute to help victims of the fire,” he says.

Thousands of people contributed 10, 20,  or even 50 dollars to help the victims.

And, as the word got out, the United Way started getting checks from all across the country and even a few checks from outside the country.

In all, 1.4 million dollars was raised to help the victims of the sugar refinery explosion.

“As bad as it was, there was some goodness that came out also as a result,” Schroeder says.

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