7 dead after explosion at Pennsylvania chocolate factory; cause remains under investigation
More bodies were found Sunday after authorities searched the site of a massive explosion in a small town at an eastern Pennsylvania chocolate factory..
West Reading Mayor Samantha Kaag confirmed Sunday night that all seven bodies of the presumptive missing victims had been recovered from the site. The announcement came after a fourth and fifth body was found by first responders earlier Sunday.
The identities of victims will not be released until authorities can confirm that family members have been notified, Kaag said in a statement Sunday night.
"Please understand that this is still a devastating loss, but we are truly grateful to bring closure to the families involved in the upcoming days," Kaag said.
West Reading Borough Chief of Police Wayne Holben said the explosion took place just before 5 p.m. Friday at the R.M. Palmer Co. plant in West Reading. Officials are investigating what caused the explosion at the plant about 60 miles northwest of Philadelphia.
Local hospitals received at least 10 patients following the Friday blast, which damaged and destroyed nearby buildings and homes.
A survivor found
Initially crews had been searching for six missing people but late Saturday morning, Holden confirmed one survivor had been found in the rubble, the Reading Eagle reported.
“The discovery provides hope that others may still be found,” Holben said Saturday.
The outlet reported Hoben could not provide any further information about the survivor.
Rescue workers were continuing a thorough search using specialized equipment and techniques. Officials said dogs and imaging equipment were being used to look for signs of life during the careful removal of debris.
"I want to assure you all that we will not rest until every single person affected by this tragedy has been accounted for. 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," Holben said during a Sunday news conference.
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The blast on Friday sent a plume of black smoke into the air and resulted in the destruction of a building at the facility and damage to a neighboring building, Holben said.
Holben said roads in the area would be shut down until Monday morning.
Photos from the scene early Saturday showed smoke rising from the plant as firefighters remained on scene searching for survivors.
“It’s pretty leveled,” Mayor Samantha Kaag said of the explosion site. “The building in the front, with the church and the apartments, the explosion was so big that it moved that building four feet forward."
Kaag said people were asked to move back about a block in each direction from the site of the explosion but no evacuations were ordered.
'We have lost close friends and colleagues'
R.M. Palmer said it was "devastated by the tragic events" in a statement Saturday.
"We have lost close friends and colleagues, and our thoughts and prayers are with the families and friends of all who have been impacted," the company said. "We will continue to coordinate closely with local and national agencies to assist in the recovery process."
The company said its computer and phone systems have been disabled because of the loss of electricity at the facility and it may take "some time" to gain entry into sections of the building. R.M. Palmer said it would be offering grief counseling to all employees.
"We have always viewed our employees as family, and are focused now more than ever on providing any support we can to you and the families of employees directly affected by this tragedy," R.M. Palmer said.
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10 taken to hospitals
Reading Hospital said it received 10 patients and transferred two to other facilities.
Two people were admitted in fair condition and five were being treated and would be released, Tower Health spokeswoman Jessica Bezler told The Associated Press in an email. One patient was transferred to another facility, but Bezler provided no further details.
West Reading Borough manager Dean Murray said some residents were displaced from a damaged apartment building.
Kagg said borough officials were not in immediate contact with officials from R.M. Palmer, which Murray described as “a staple of the borough.”
According to the company's website, the plant has been making “chocolate novelties” since 1948 and now has 850 employees at its West Reading headquarters.
Contributing: Associated Press
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Pennsylvania chocolate factory explosion: Death toll climbs to 7