Published On: Sun, Mar 26th, 2023

Fifth death confirmed in Pennsylvania chocolate factory explosion

The remains of a fifth apparent victim of a chocolate factory explosion in Pennsylvania were discovered at the site Sunday morning, authorities in the borough of West Reading said.

The find brings the number of fatalities connected to Friday’s blast at R.M. Palmer Company to five, with two others unaccounted for nearly two days after the incident, West Reading Police Chief Wayne Holben said at a news conference.

After initially announcing a fourth death Sunday, Holben promised that authorities would continue searching.

“I want to assure you all that we will not rest until every single person affected by this tragedy has been accounted for,” Holben said. “We are fully committed to this task and we will do everything in our power to ensure that we bring closure to all those involved.”

Identities of the dead were unavailable, and officials would not discuss their relationships to the factory. The Berks County Coroner’s Office, which will establish identity and cause of death for the victims, did not immediately respond to a request for information.

Holben said that officials are using heavy equipment to pull debris away from the site “to make sure we are taking as much care as possible for individuals that are still inside,” which he characterized as “a long process.”

West Reading Fire Chief Chad Moyer said Saturday night that the chances of finding survivors was decreasing rapidly “due to the violence of the explosion and the amount of time that has passed,” according to NBC Philadelphia.

West Reading Mayor Samantha Kaag said Sunday that the White House reached out on Saturday to offer their assistance.

“They’ve offered condolences, asked us that if we need anything, to please reach out,” Kaag said. “So we are getting calls from numerous sources and we’re grateful for all of them. We’re grateful the resources that they’re offering. Right now we’re just kind of trying to get our feet on the ground and figure out where we can put them and how we can delegate them.”

Officials also announced Sunday that they had launched a West Reading Disaster Recovery Fund to support the organizations helping families affected by the blast and people who were displaced from their homes or employment.

A facility spokesperson said 10 people who survived with injuries were taken to Reading Hospital in the West Reading borough, an area of Berks County about 63 miles northwest of Philadelphia.

Two were transferred to other facilities, two were in good or fair condition at Reading Hospital, and the others were treated or checked out and released, officials said, according to NBC Philadelphia.

The elapsed time has not added to the public’s understanding of what happened. Moyer said local and state fire investigators were continuing to probe the cause of the explosion.

There were also initial discrepancies regarding the number of victims, NBC Philadelphia reported: A Saturday morning report from the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency indicated that five people had died and six remained unaccounted for, but at a press conference later that morning, Kaag said that information was inaccurate, characterizing the situation as “a tragic event that we are still gathering information on.”

Kaag said the blast just before 5 p.m. Friday “leveled” the confection plant.

Richard M. Palmer Sr. founded the company in 1948, when he sold a handful of chocolates, including bunnies. R.M. Palmer Company employs 850 people today, according to the company’s website.

In a statement, the company expressed anguish, said it has lost “close friends and colleagues,” and said it was trying to reach out to employees despite email and phone failure after the blast.

“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,” the company said.

Officials were expected to share another update Sunday night.

Kurt Chirbas contributed.

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