WEST READING, Pa. — Officials say two other people were found dead after the devastating explosion at the RM Palmer Company in West Reading, Pennsylvania.
The two victims are believed to be the two people who went missing previously, officials said during a briefing Sunday night.
The explosion killed seven people.
This is an evolving story and will be updated
A fifth person was confirmed dead and two people remained missing Sunday, two days after a powerful explosion at a chocolate factory rocked a small Pennsylvania town.
The blast happened at around 5pm on Friday at the RM Palmer Company in West Reading.
Witnesses said they heard an explosion from the candy factory and saw flames shortly after.
Kristen Wisniewski lives three blocks from the local and well-known chocolate company.
“It was the loudest thing I’ve ever heard in my life,” she said. “It literally felt like the ground was falling out from under you. The whole house was shaking and my dogs froze, they couldn’t move, it was scary.”
The damage is extensive. Officials say the RM Palmer #2 building was destroyed and the adjacent Palmer #1 building was damaged.
“It’s pretty flat, unfortunately you can’t salvage too much of it,” Mayor Samantha Kaag said. “In front with the church and apartments, the explosion was so large it moved the building four feet forward.”
There was 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 helped fuel the four-alarm fire that broke out after the blast.
“We didn’t 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 include checking all of our nearby facilities,” UGI spokesman Joseph Swope said Saturday.
Family and friends of workers at the factory are worried but hopeful. A family member spoke to Action News about his sister, who he says is still missing after the blast.
“My sister, she came to work and never came home,” Frankie Gonzalez said. “There are still a few people who are missing, she is one of them. We hope she found a bag to hide in, we won’t give up hope.”
Gonzalez says his sister has a daughter, son and husband at home. He and his family say they continue to pray as recovery efforts stretch into the night hours.
Officials say one person was found alive and pulled from the rubble overnight on Saturday.
“One person was found alive during the night hours and rescue workers continue to search for other possible survivors,” Police Commissioner Wayne Holben said. “The discovery of overnight efforts to restore life gives hope that others may 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 sometime between 2 and 3 am
She was found when rescuers began yelling, “This is the fire department, is anyone there?”
The woman was taken to hospital after spending about eight hours in the rubble. There’s no word yet on her current condition or identity.
Rescue workers continued a thorough search using specialized equipment and techniques. Officials said dogs and imaging equipment were used to search for signs of life during the careful removal of debris.
The names of those killed were not released.
Tower Health said on Saturday Reading Hospital had admitted a total of 10 patients.
“Of those, one has been transferred to Lehigh Valley Hospital, one to Penn State Health St. Joseph Medical Center, two have been admitted and are in good and fair condition, and the others have been discharged,” the health system said in a statement.
When a father and son couple first heard the explosion, they said they didn’t know what to think.
“I didn’t know, I just ran out and saw the mess over there. I think it was a gas explosion from what it sounded like,” said Garry Witmoyer of Wyomissing. “It was very scary, the building was filled with smoke just from the explosion.”
“I didn’t see any flames at first, just some clapboards and materials falling from the sky. I knew it was an explosion,” said Witmoyer’s son, Garry Witmoyer Jr.
Kaag said people have been asked to retreat one block in each direction, but no evacuations have been ordered. She had issued a declaration of emergency only to provide more resources for first responders. District Manager Dean Murray said some residents were evicted from the damaged home.
Philip Wert, vice-president of West Reading Council, said the building was constructed in the late 1950s or early 1960s and officials “had to access our archives to pull the blueprints last night to come up with a better layout of the building get and the mechanics and the utilities where things are.
“The silver lining is someone was found alive, someone was found alive lying in the rubble without knowing if they were going to live or die and luckily we found that person and hopefully they have a second chance, thumbs up push that we will find more,” he said.
The RM Palmer Company released 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 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 have been affected. We are truly grateful for the extraordinary efforts of all first responders and for the support of our community in Reading, which has been the home of our business for more than 70 years. We will continue to coordinate closely with local authorities and national agencies to support the recovery process.
We aim to stay in touch with all employees and the families of affected employees, but the company’s email, phone and other communication systems are down and as such we are currently relying on first responders and disaster recovery organizations to provide those available Information for affected families. We will provide additional information and be in touch with staff, affected families and the community as soon as possible.”
RM Palmer also launched a crisis hotline for families and anyone in need of support on Saturday. The number is 610-374-5224 and the extension is 539.
The company’s website says it has been making “chocolate novelties” since 1948 and now employs 850 people at its West Reading headquarters.
Governor Josh Shapiro and PEMA Director Randy Padfield visited the site on Saturday. Shapiro promised ongoing resources and support.
“Our hearts are breaking for the families of those who have not come home,” Shapiro said in a statement. “We are with you – and my administration are here to provide all resources and support to West Reading.”
Others in the community, such as Volunteer groups in Berks County have 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 West Reading. We really came together as a family and community,” Kaag noted.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
https://abc7.com/rm-palmer-chocolate-factory-explosion-pennsylvania-west-reading/13020432/ Pennsylvania chocolate factory explosion: 7 dead after RM Palmer chocolate factory exploded in West Reading, PA, officials say