Survivor pulled from the rubble after the explosion at the RM Palmer Company chocolate factory in West Reading, Pennsylvania; 2 killed

WEST READING, Pa. — Two people have died and five others are missing after an explosion and four-alarm fire at a chocolate factory in West Reading, Pennsylvania on Friday night.

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

Police Chief Wayne Holben said the rescue of one person from the rubble “raised hope that other people could still be found”.

Rescuers were continuing a thorough search using specialized equipment and techniques. Officials said dogs and imaging equipment were being used to search for signs of life as the debris was carefully removed.

The names of those killed have not been released.

Tower Health said on Saturday Reading Hospital had received a total of 10 patients.

“Of these, one was transferred to Lehigh Valley Hospital, one to Penn State Health St. Joseph Medical Center, two were admitted and are in good condition and the others were discharged,” the system said. health in a press release. .

There has been no official word on the cause of this explosion, including whether it was caused by a gas leak.

A spokesman for UGI Utilities said crews were brought in after damage from the blast led to the release of gas that was helping to fuel the fire.

“We have not received any calls about a gas leak or gas order prior to the incident, but we are cooperating with the investigation and part of that will be checking all of our nearby facilities,” the doorman said on Saturday. – IGU spokesperson, Joseph Swope.

The explosion occurred around 5 p.m. at the RM Palmer Company.

Witnesses reported hearing an explosion from the candy factory, then saw flames soon after.

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

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

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

“It’s pretty level, unfortunately there’s not much to get out of it,” Mayor Samantha Kaag said. “In the front, with the church and the apartments, the explosion was so large that it moved this building a meter forward.”

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

“I didn’t know, I just ran out and saw that mess over there. I think it was a gas explosion as it sounded,” Wyomissing’s Garry Witmoyer said. “It was very scary, the building filled with smoke from the explosion.”

“I didn’t see any flames at first, just a bunch of shingles and material falling from the sky. I knew it was an explosion,” said Witmoyer’s son, Garry Witmoyer Jr.

Kaag said people were told to move back about a block in each direction, but no evacuations were ordered. She had issued an emergency declaration just to give more resources to first responders. Borough manager Dean Murray said some residents were moved from the damaged building.

Philip Wert, deputy chairman of West Reading council, said the building was built in the late 1950s or early 1960s, and officials needed to ‘access our records to pull the plans 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, someone was found alive who was in the rubble, not knowing if they were going to live or die, and luckily we found that person and she’s got a second chance, and hopefully fingers crossed we’ll find more,” he said.

The company’s website says it has been making “chocolate novelties” since 1948 and now has 850 employees at its West Reading headquarters.

Governor Josh Shapiro and PEMA Director Randy Padfield visited the site on Saturday. Shapiro promised continued resources and support.

“Our hearts break for the families of those who did not return,” Shapiro said in a statement. “We are with you – and my administration is here to provide all the resources and meet the needs of West Reading.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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