Pennsylvania chocolate factory explodes; 5 dead, 6 missing

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    In this screen grab from video provided by WPVI-TV/6ABC, smoke rises from an explosion at the R.M. Palmer Co. plant in West Reading, Pa., Friday, March 24, 2023. (WPVI-TV/6ABC via AP)

    WEST READING, Pa. (AP) — An explosion at a chocolate factory in Pennsylvania on Friday killed five people and left six people missing, authorities said.

    The Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency confirmed the increase in the number of fatalities Saturday morning after the blast just before 5 p.m. Friday at the R.M. Palmer Co. plant in the borough of West Reading.

    Chief of Police Wayne Holben said the blast destroyed one building and damaged a neighboring building.

    “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.”

    The cause of the blast in the community about 60 miles (96 kilometers) northwest of Philadelphia was under investigation, Holden told reporters. Authorities are investigating the possibility that a gas leak may have been responsible, a spokesperson for the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency said.

    Eight people were taken to Reading Hospital Friday evening, Tower Health spokeswoman Jessica Bezler said.

    Two people were admitted in fair condition and five were being treated and would be released, she said in an email. One patient was transferred to another facility, but Bezler provided no further details.

    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.

    Dean Murray, the borough manager of West Reading Borough, said some residents were displaced from the 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.”

    The company’s website says it has been making “chocolate novelties” since 1948 and now has 850 employees at its West Reading headquarters.

    Emergency personnel and heavy equipment work at the site of a deadly explosion at a chocolate factory in West Reading, Pa.,, Saturday, March 25, 2023. (AP Photo/Michael Rubinkam)

    Emergency personnel and heavy equipment work at the site of a deadly explosion at a chocolate factory in West Reading, Pa.,, Saturday, March 25, 2023. (AP Photo/Michael Rubinkam)

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