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Pennsylvania chocolate factory explosion: 4 dead after RM Palmer’s chocolate factory exploded in West Riding, Pennsylvania, officials say

Western Reading, Pennsylvania – Officials have announced that four people are now dead after a devastating explosion at a chocolate factory in Pennsylvania.

Police also said at a news conference Sunday morning that three people are still missing.

The explosion occurred at about 5 p.m. on Friday at the RM Palmer Company in West Riding.

Eyewitnesses reported hearing an explosion coming from the candy factory, and then seeing flames soon after.

Kristen Wisniewski lives three blocks from the well-known local chocolate company.

“It was the loudest sound I’ve ever heard,” she said. “It literally felt like the ground fell out from under you. The whole house shook and my dogs froze, they couldn’t move, it was scary.”

The damage is extensive. Officials say the RM Palmer Building No. 2 is destroyed and there is damage to the adjacent Palmer Building No. 1.

“It’s pretty much flat, unfortunately there’s not much that can be salvaged from it,” said Mayor Samantha Kaag. “In the foreground, with the church and apartments, the explosion was so great that it pushed the building forward four feet.”

There was no official news about the cause of this explosion, including whether it was caused by a gas leak.

A spokesperson for UGI Utilities said crews were brought in after the blast which released gas that was helping to fuel the four alarm fire that started after the blast.

“We did not receive any calls regarding a gas leak or a gas matter prior to the incident, but we are cooperating with the investigation and part of that will be checking all of our facilities in the immediate area,” UGI spokesman Joseph Sopp said Saturday.

Families and friends of the factory workers are worried but hopeful. A family member spoke with Action News about his sister, who he said is still missing after the blast.

“My sister came to work and she couldn’t come home,” said Frankie Gonzalez. “Two people are still missing, and she is one of them. We hope she finds a pocket where she can hide, and we won’t give up our hope.”

Gonzalez says his sister has a daughter, a son, and a husband at home. He and his family say they continue to pray as recovery efforts extend into the night hours.

Officials say one person was found alive and pulled from the rubble on Saturday night.

“During the night hours one person was found alive and rescue workers are continuing to search for any other possible survivors,” said Police Chief Wayne Holben. “The discovery of recovery efforts overnight provides hope that others can still be found.”

Action News has learned that the survivor is a woman who worked on the second floor of the factory. She was found in the basement between 2am and 3am

She was found when rescuers started yelling, “This is the fire department, is anyone there?”

The woman was taken to hospital after spending nearly eight hours under the rubble. No word yet on her current condition or identity.

Rescue workers continued a thorough search using specialized equipment and techniques. Officials said dogs and camera equipment were used to search for signs of life as the wreckage was carefully removed.

The names of the dead have not been released.

On Saturday, Tower Health said Reading hospital had admitted 10 patients.

“Of those, one was transferred to Lehigh Valley Hospital, one to Penn State St. Joseph’s Medical Center, two were admitted in fair and good condition, and the others were discharged,” the health system said in a statement. .

When the father and son first heard the explosion, they said they didn’t know what to think.

“I didn’t know, I just went out and saw that mess in there. I think it was a gas explosion the way it sounded,” said Gary Whitmoyer of Wyomissing. “It was very scary, the building filled with smoke from just the explosion.”

Gary Whitmoyer Jr., Weymuyer’s son, said, “I didn’t see flames at first, just a bunch of boards and stuff falling from the sky. I knew it was an explosion.”

Kaag said people were told to back out of a building in every direction but no evacuation orders were given. I issued an emergency declaration only to allow more resources for first responders. Dean Murray, the district manager, said some residents had been displaced from the damaged apartment building.

The building had been erected in the late 1950s or early 1960s, said Philip Wert, vice-chairman of West Reading Council, and those responsible “had to get into our archives to pull the blueprints last night, in order to get a better layout of the building. And the mechanics and utilities, where things are.”

“The silver lining in all of this is that someone was found alive, somebody was found alive in the rubble, they don’t know if they’re going to live or die, luckily we found that person and they have a second chance, hopefully fingers crossed we’ll find more.” “.

RM Palmer issued the following statement on the incident on Saturday afternoon:

“Everyone at RM Palmer has been devastated by the tragic events at one of our West Reading facilities, and we are focused on supporting our staff and their families. We have lost close friends and colleagues, and our thoughts and prayers are with the families and friends of all who were affected. We are sincerely grateful for the extraordinary efforts of all first responders and for the support of our Reading community, which has been home to our business for over 70 years We will continue to coordinate closely with local and national agencies to assist in the recovery process.

We are keen to communicate with all employees and families of employees who have been affected, but company email, phones and other communication systems are down and therefore we are currently relying on first responders and disaster recovery organizations to provide whatever information is available to affected families. We will provide additional information and reach out to affected staff, families and the community as quickly as possible.”

RM Palmer also launched a crisis hotline on Saturdays for families and anyone who needs support. Number 610-374-5224 and extension 539.

The company’s website It says it has been making “new chocolate products” since 1948 and now has 850 employees at its headquarters in West Riding.

Governor Josh Shapiro and PEMA Administrator Randy Padfield visited the site Saturday. Shapiro pledged resources and continued support.

“Our hearts are broken for the families of those who did not return home,” Shapiro said in a statement. “We are with you – and my management is here to provide all the resources and support West Riding needs.”

Others in the community, eg Volunteer groups in Berks County also pledged their support to help those affected by the blast.

“I’ve never been so proud of Berks County, I’ve never been so proud of Post Reading. We came together as a family and a community,” noted Cage.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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