Five individuals were reported missing after an explosion at a chocolate factory in Pennsylvania on Friday, according to the authorities. Overnight, one passenger was rescued alive from the wreckage.
Hours after the explosion that occurred just before 5 p.m. on Friday at the R.M. Palmer Co. facility in the borough of West Reading, some 60 miles (96 kilometers) northwest of Philadelphia, rescue teams using dogs and imaging equipment continued to sift through the debris on Saturday.
Three fatalities were confirmed by the Berks County Medical Examiner and Coroner on Saturday night. Prior to an update from the county, which also revealed that two had died and five were missing, the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency had earlier reported five fatalities, citing county emergency management officials.
Police Chief Wayne Holben stated that the discovery of one individual after being pulled from the rubble “provides hope that more may still be discovered.” Rescue personnel continued their exhaustive search using specialized tools and methods. According to officials, throughout the meticulous cleanup of debris, dogs and imaging technology were being utilized to search for signs of life.
According to Holben, the explosion damaged a nearby building in addition to destroying one. He stated that the cause is still being looked into.
Mayor Samantha Kaag described the blast scene as “quite flattened.” The front building, which contained a church and flats, was propelled four feet forward by the explosion because it was so large.
ten patients were admitted to Reading Hospital on Saturday afternoon, of whom one was sent to Lehigh Valley Hospital and another to Penn State Health St. Joseph Medical Center. Officials said that the others had been released and that two patients were admitted to Reading Hospital in good and fair conditions, respectively.
According to a UGI Utilities spokeswoman, technicians were dispatched after blast damage caused the flow of gas that fed the fire.
Before to the event, “We did not receive any reports of a gas leak or gas order. But, we are helping with the inquiry, and we will investigate all of our sites nearby as part of that, UGI spokesperson Joseph Swope said on Saturday.
Everyone at the company was “devastated by the sad events,” R.M. Palmer said in a statement late Saturday, and “focused on supporting our colleagues and their families.”
The company said: “We have lost close friends and colleagues, and our thoughts and prayers are with the families and friends of all who have been impacted.” It also thanked the Reading community, which has supported it for more than 70 years, for its support and the “extraordinary efforts” of first responders.
R.M. Palmer stated that it was eager to contact its staff members and their families. But, because to the failure of its email, phone, and other communication capabilities, it was forced to rely on first responders and disaster recovery agencies to inform the impacted families. The business promised to “provide additional information and make contact as soon as feasible with employees, impacted families, and the community.”
No evacuations, according to Kaag, although residents were advised to step back approximately a block in each direction. She had just declared an emergency to free up additional resources for first responders. Several occupants were reportedly evicted from the damaged apartment complex, according to borough manager Dean Murray.
Together with the disaster management agency director, governor Josh Shapiro visited the scene on Saturday and pledged “any and all commonwealth resources needed to help continuing recovery efforts — in addition to the substantial assets that have already been deployed.”
Since last night, he added, a team of structural engineers and K-9s from a state urban search and rescue task force had been helping, and more personnel had come on Saturday. He said that a state police fire marshal was helping with the inquiry.
The building was built in the late 1950s or early 1960s, according to Philip Wert, vice president of the West Reading council. Last night, officials had to “access our archive to pull the blueprints in order to get a better layout of the building and the mechanicals and the utilities, where things are,” he said.
The good news in all of this is that someone was discovered alive. “The individual was discovered alive who was in rubble, not knowing whether they were going to survive or die, and happily we found that person and they had a second opportunity,” he said.
Frank Gonzalez observed the debris being removed while perched on a hill above the explosion scene. He said that Diana Cedeno, his sister, was among the missing and was working at the plant when the blast occurred.
“This is bad. He expressed displeasure at what he viewed as a lack of communication from officials regarding the search, saying, “It’s really hard waiting, not knowing. “Just in case she is in there and says her name, we keep pestering, calling, and keeping her name alive.”
He claimed that his sister has two adult children, one of whom is a son who is serving abroad. She works as a party decorator on the side and has been pursuing ministry training at her church, he claimed.
Gonzalez stated that although both his son and nephew had previously worked at the facility, his son had left a few months prior “because he claimed he didn’t like the smell of the gas that was in there.” When his son and nephew complained about the scent to factory managers, they were informed, “‘It’s okay. We succeeded. It’s being dealt with. Don’t stress over it,” he said.
Arelis Rivera Santiago, a Palmer employee, was reportedly working in the building next door when the explosion occurred, according to Frank DeJesus. He claimed that the ceiling collapsed and that she had to escape by crawling underneath equipment. She was still too shaken to talk about what had happened when DeJesus arrived on the scene, according to his account of finding her “shaking and crying violently.”
Employees at the plant, including his stepdaughter, had complained about smelling gas all day Friday, according to DeJesus.
He claimed that despite everyone’s complaints, the machines remained running. “The managers assured them that it was unimportant. That was being looked after.
R.M. Palmer was contacted earlier for a statement regarding the explosion.
When the blast rattled his house, rattling windows and shaking the walls, Doug Olexy was returning from work and checking his email.
He remembered it on Saturday: “It sounded like a bomb went off.” “I mean, our homes all shook. Never in my life have I heard an explosion as loud.
As soon as that was over, he and his neighbors fled outside and were confronted by a cloud of dark smoke. Olexy initially believed it to be a train derailment due to the surrounding tracks. He later discovered that it was the Palmer plant, which he described as a West Reading landmark.
“Palmer chocolate is known to everyone,” he stated.
According to the company’s website, R.M. Palmer has been producing chocolate novelty items since 1948 and currently employs 850 people at its West Reading headquarters. Early this month, it posted on Facebook about Easter delights such chocolate bunnies and “the newest milk chocolate hollow” in its “rabbit family,” which included jelly beans. The company is not the most well-known producer of chocolate in the area, despite Hershey being less than an hour to the west.