Chocolate factory explosion: 4 killed in explosion at RM Palmer in West Reading, Pennsylvania

WEST READING, Pennsylvania (WPVI) — Four people have died in a deadly explosion at a chocolate factory in West Reading, Pennsylvania, authorities have announced.

The police also said that three people were missing during a press conference on Sunday morning.

The explosion occurred at RM Palmer on Friday around 5 pm.

Witnesses said they heard an explosion coming from the candy factory and saw it burst into flames shortly after.

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

“It was the loudest thing I’ve ever heard in my life,” he said. “It felt like the floor fell out from under you. The whole house shook, my dogs froze, they couldn’t move, it was scary.”

The damage is extensive. Officials say RM Palmer Building #2 was destroyed and nearby Palmer Building #1 sustained damage.

Mayor Samantha Cocke said, “It’s pretty leveled, and unfortunately there’s not much to salvage from it.” “At the front, with the church and the apartments, the explosion was so great that it moved that building four feet forward.”

There is no official information on the cause of the blast, including whether it was due to a gas leak.

A UGI Utilities spokeswoman said after the damage caused by the explosion, a four-alarm fire that went off after the explosion led to the release of gas that helped feed the fire.

“We did not receive any calls regarding a gas leak or gas order prior to the incident, but we are cooperating with the investigation, which includes checking all of our nearby facilities,” UGI spokesman Joseph Swope said Saturday.

Family and friends of factory workers are worried but hopeful. A family member spoke to Action News about her sister, who says she is still missing after the explosion.

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“My sister, she came to work and she never came home,” Frankie Gonzalez said. “There are still a couple of unaccounted people, and she is one of them. We believe she has found a pocket where she can hide it, and we will not give up our hope.”

Gonzalez says her sister has a daughter, son and husband at home. As rescue efforts continued through the night, he and his family said they continued to pray.

Officials say one person was pulled alive from the wreckage Saturday night.

“One person was found alive overnight and rescue workers continue to search for any other survivors,” said Police Chief Wayne Holpen. “The discovery of life overnight rescue efforts give hope that others may yet be discovered.”

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

The rescuers said, “This is the fire department, is anyone there?” She was discovered when she started screaming.

The woman, who was trapped in the rubble for about 8 hours, was taken to hospital. There is no word yet on his current condition or identity.

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

The names of those killed have not been released.

Tower Health said on Saturday that a total of 10 patients were admitted to Reading Hospital.

“One of them was transferred to Lehigh Valley Hospital, one was transferred to Penn State Health St. Joseph Medical Center, two were admitted and are in good and fair condition, and the others have been discharged,” the health system said in a statement. .

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

“I don’t know, I ran out and saw the commotion. I think it was a gas explosion from the way it sounded,” said Gary Whitmoyer from Wyomissing. “It was very scary, the building was filled with smoke from the explosion.”

“At first I didn’t see flames, I didn’t see a bunch of shingles and stuff falling out of the sky. I knew it was an explosion,” Whitmoyer’s son Gary Whitmoyer Jr. said.

People were asked to retreat about a block in each direction, but no evacuations were ordered, Cocke said. He issued an emergency declaration only to allow additional resources for first responders. Barrow manager Dean Murray said some residents had been displaced from the damaged apartment building.

Philip Wert, deputy leader of West Reading Council, said the building was built in the late 1950s or early 1960s and said officers had to access our archive to take maps last night to get a better layout of the building. and mechanicals and utilities, where materials exist.”

“The silver lining is somebody was found alive, somebody was in the wreckage, not knowing if they were going to live or die, luckily we found that person, they got a second chance, and hopefully, fingers crossed, we’re going to find more,” he said.

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

“Everyone at RM Palmer is devastated by the tragic events at one of our West Reading facilities, and we are focused on supporting our employees and their families. We have lost close friends and colleagues, and our thoughts and prayers are with the families and friends. To all victims, first responders We are sincerely grateful for everyone’s extraordinary efforts and the support of our Reading community, home to our business for over 70 years.We will continue to coordinate with local people and national agencies to assist in the recovery process.

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We are anxious to be in touch with all employees and the families of affected employees, but company email, telephones and other communication systems are down, so we are currently relying on first responders and disaster recovery agencies. Information will be available to affected families. We will provide additional information and contact employees, affected families and the community as soon as possible.”

RM Palmer also launched a crisis hotline on Saturday for families and anyone in need of support. The number is 610-374-5224 and extension 539.

Company website It says it has been making “chocolate innovations” since 1948 and now employs 850 people at its West Reading headquarters.

Gov. Josh Shapiro and PEMA Director Randy Badfield visited the site Saturday. Shapiro promised continued resources and support.

“Our hearts break for the families of those who never came home,” Shapiro said in a statement. “We are with you — and my administration is here to provide all the resources and support West Reading needs.”

Others in the community, such as volunteer groups in Berks County, have also pledged their support to help victims of the outbreak.

“I’ve never been more proud of Berks County, I’ve never been more proud of West Reading. We really came together as a family and community,” Cock noted.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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