PORT WENTWORTH, Ga. As crews pulled another body from the charred remnants of a sugar refinery on Saturday, families and co-workers waited anxiously for identities of the five dead and the fate of the three men still missing.
They also desperately hoped for any sign of recovery among the worst injured in the explosion and fire at the refinery, which left 20 workers hospitalized with severe burns, 17 of them in medically induced comas.
"It's just hours of waiting right now," said Hallie Capers, whose two nephews suffered horrific burns and are in critical condition at a burn center in Augusta, 130 miles up the Savannah River.
"We pray and hope that when we do get some news, it'll be good news," he said.
Good news was scarce as firefighters pulled the fifth body from the Imperial Sugar refinery, outside Savannah.
Fire Chief Greg Long said the body was found near the plant's three 80-foot storage silos, one of which ignited like a bomb during the night shift Thursday.
The blast and fire left much of the massive plant dangerously unstable, and crews had to shore up the sagging upper floors in a four-story building Saturday before resuming searching for the missing men.
Firefighters had all but extinguished the fire that had raged in the refinery since the explosion.
Officials clung to slim hope that the missing men could be found alive, Long said.
"We operate on the policy that everyone is alive until we get to them," he said.
The search was halted at sunset because the debris-strewn refinery remained too hazardous for nighttime searches.
Family members of the dead and missing, whose names have not been released, hugged and wept outside a Catholic church near the plant where they have gotten daily briefings from emergency officials.
Plant employees left a meeting with company officials in a somber mood.
A worried Douglas Milton, who works in the packaging area that took the brunt of the blast, said he's tried unsuccessfully to reach several co-workers in the plant at the time of the explosion.
"Some guys on my floor, I haven't heard anything about them," said Milton, 37, who has worked at the refinery for seven years. "I've been calling a lot of their cell phone numbers, but I'm not getting any answers."
John Calvin Bulter Jr. and his younger brother, Jamie, were both badly burned as the explosion tore through the plant while more than 100 employees worked inside on the night shift.
Their uncle, Hallie Capers, said he was stunned when he first saw them Saturday at the Joseph M. Still burn center in Augusta.
Their heads and hands were wrapped in bandages covering third-degree burns and they were in medically induced comas.
"It's just shocking to me to really see it, to walk in and see them like that how bad they were, their faces, hands, arms, their whole bodies," said Capers, a Baptist minister from Hampton, S.C.
He said he stood beside his nephews, said a prayer for them and asked them how they were doing, though he knew neither could respond.
Dr. Jeff Mullins, the burn center's medical director, said 17 workers remained in critical condition. Three others were in serious condition.
"They're going to remain in critical condition for a period of time just because of the depth of the burns," Mullins said. "They could be in the hospital for six-plus months."
More than 10 other patients treated at hospitals in Savannah had all been discharged by Saturday.
Imperial Sugar was one of the largest and oldest employers in this city of 5,000. The vast refinery was a network of warehouses, silos and buildings eight stories tall connected by corridors of sheet metal.
Investigators with the Georgia Fire Marshal's office, the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, and the U.S. Chemical Safety Board began arriving Saturday to determine the cause of the explosion.
Imperial President and CEO John Sheptor has said sugar dust in a silo used to store refined sugar before packaging likely ignited like gunpowder. Sugar dust can be combustible if it's too dry and builds up a static electric charge.
Company officials have refused to speculate on when the plant might reopen, saying structural engineers needed to examine the damage.
Sheptor said Saturday the company will continue to pay employees for the time being, but would not say for how long.
More than 300 dust explosions have killed more than 120 works in grain silos, sugar plants and food processing plants over the past three decades. Most are preventable by removing fine dust as it builds up, experts say.