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Scene of the factory explosion in West Reading
A sky view of the explosion at the RM Palmer Chocolate Company factory in West Reading, PA. Photo: AP

Explosion at West Reading chocolate factory leaves seven dead

The explosion occurred at approximately 5 p.m, on the afternoon of Friday, March 24.

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Firefighters and other rescue crews from across Berks County jumped into action on the afternoon of Friday, March 24 responding to a four-alarm fire reported at Building #2 of the RM Palmer Chocolate Company’s factory in West Reading, PA.

The four-alarm fire was caused by an explosion that took place at approximately 5 p.m. As rescue continued into Saturday, two people have since been found dead and five people remain unaccounted for. During the initial efforts, one person was pulled alive from the rubble.

That survivor has been seen as a beacon of hope that the others unaccounted for will eventually be found alive.

"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," Philip Wert, vice president of West Reading’s council, told 6ABC.

Building #2 at the headquarters of the RM Palmer Chocolate Company is completely destroyed in the aftermath of the explosion, and Building #1 is partially damaged.

Per the company’s website, there are 850 workers at its West Reading headquarters. It specializes in novelty chocolate products and is best-known for those it puts out around Easter in the shape of bunnies.

Governor Josh Shapiro was also on the scene of the blast on Saturday, March 25 to oversee the ongoing rescue and recovery efforts. 

“Our hearts break for the families of those who didn’t come home,” said Shapiro. “As West Reading continues to confront this tragedy this morning, the entire Commonwealth of Pennsylvania stands with this community. We are with you — and my Administration is here to provide all the resources and support West Reading needs.” 

Those resources have included mobilizing PEMA to provide K-9 units to help in ongoing search efforts, structural engineers and other equipment to help move rubble. The Pennsylvania State Police have also been on the scene fielding other local support requests.

Shapiro has also convened with all local officials in and around Reading, including Reading Mayor Eddie Moran, West Reading Mayor Samantha Kaag, and State Reps. Johanny Cepeda-Freytiz and Manny Guzmán, among others.

For Guzmán, the tragedy hit close to home, as he posted on Facebook in the aftermath the explosion and fire that he was “frantically calling” his dad “for the last 30 minutes” to check on his status. His father is an employee at the RM Palmer Chocolate Company.

“Update: My dad was in Building 2 and managed to get out in time,” he eventually posted.

On Saturday night, a third body was recovered from the rubble, raising the death toll to three — four remained missing at the time. More bodies were found on Sunday, with the final two being recovered last night, March 26. The total death count is seven.

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