Explosion at Pennsylvania chocolate factory leaves two dead and five missing
An explosion at a chocolate factory in Pennsylvania has killed two people and left five missing, authorities said on Saturday.
One person was rescued from the rubble overnight after the explosion at the RM Palmer Co. plant, the West Reading Borough Police Department said.
Two deaths were confirmed, The Associated Press reported, citing borough officials. The Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency previously said that five people had died, citing information from county officials.
The vice president of the West Reading council, Philip Wert, said that the building was built in the late 1950s or early 1960s.
He added that officials had “access our archive to pull the blueprints last night, in order to get a better layout of the building and the mechanicals and the utilities, where things are”.
“The silver lining in all this is someone was found alive, someone was found alive that was in rubble, not knowing whether they were going to live or die, and fortunately we found that person and they’ve got a second chance, and hopefully fingers crossed we’re going to find more,” he said.
Rescue workers used dogs and imaging equipment to look through the remnants of the factory on Saturday.
Police Chief Wayne Holben said the rescue of one person overnight “provides hope that others still may be found,” according to the AP.
The explosion took place shortly before 5pm on Friday, according to local media reports.
A thick plume of black smoke rose from the factory after the explosion. One building was completely destroyed and a neighbouring apartment building suffered severe damage.
“It’s pretty levelled,” Samantha Kaag, mayor of West Reading Borough said of the explosion site. The borough is about 60 miles northwest of Philadelphia.
“The building in the front, with the church and the apartments, the explosion was so big that it moved that building four feet forward.”
Residents in other neighbouring buildings were asked to leave them for safety reasons, according to Dean Murray, the borough manager of West Reading.
Chief Holden told the media that the police are investigating the cause of the blast.
Eight people were taken to Reading Hospital on Friday night, according to Tower Health spokesperson Jessica Bezler. One patient was transferred to another facility.
“We had about 8 go to the hospital last night, but we can’t speculate on their condition or on if there’s any more or less,” Ms Kaag told CBS Philadelphia. “Unfortunately it’s a tragic event that we’re still gathering information on.”
Residents in the neighbouring buildings were asked to leave them for safety reasons, according to Dean Murray, the borough manager of West Reading.
The PM Palmer chocolate plant employs 850 people at the West Reading headquarters, according to its website.
Liz Soto, who was near the explosion told Fox 29 that she heard “a loud noise, like a roaring sound, then the house shook”.
Joseph Swope, spokesperson for the UGI utilities company, said on Saturday that crews were sent to the site after the blast prompted gas to be released and caused a fire, the AP reported.
“We did not receive any calls regarding a gas leak or gas order prior to the incident, but we are cooperating with the investigation and part of that will be to check all our facilities in the vicinity,” he said.