The explosion, which occurred last February, could have been due to sugar dust igniting as it was in storage before packaging, the company said at the time. Tragically, 13 workers were killed and more than 50 injured. The announcement reinforces how devastating accidents can be for a food company, and Imperial said today it is eager to get operations back to their former level. Imperial stocks fell by as much as eight per cent soon after the blast occurred last February, Reuters reported at the time. However, Imperial now intends to reinstate the Port Wentworth facility as the second largest refinery in the US, aiming to process around nine per cent of the country's domestic sugar. Restarting production John Sheptor, Imperial's president and chief executive officer, said current reconstruction objectives include re-employing 275 of 371 workers, demolishing damaged facilities, completing engineering estimates and ordering new equipment. "The board's action is a key milestone in our plans to bring the Port Wentworth refinery back online and to re-establish the packaging capacity destroyed in early February," he said. "Engaging outside resources to complete the engineering developed by our internal staff should allow us to stay on track to restart bulk sugar production this calendar year." The company expects full restoration of packaging capabilities to be completed in the next 12 to 18 months, he added. Imperial Sugar Company is one of the largest processors refined sugar in the United States, supplying to food manufacturers, retail grocers and foodservice distributors. The company reported a solid financial performance in the year preceding the blast, stating that sales for the quarter ended December 31 2005 increased 18.3 percent to $254 million, compared to $215 million the year before. However, Imperial did experience a dent in profits the same year because of damage inflicted to its New Orleans facilities by Hurricane Katrina.
Production at the group's cane sugar refinery at Gramercy, located approximately 20 miles northwest of New Orleans, was suspended while damage assessments were carried out.