An explosion at a Pennsylvania chocolate factory left at least seven dead and more injured as rescue crews worked throughout the weekend to locate all the missing.
Friday evening in West Reading, Pennsylvania, a camera captured the moment the R.M. Palmer Company chocolate factory exploded with a team of second shift workers still inside. The cause of the blast remains under investigation but early reports suggest a gas leak may have been the source, according to WFMZ.
By late Sunday, Mayor Samantha Kaag (D), who had been working with the support of Gov. Josh Shapiro (D), released a statement to report that all those believed missing had been located and, tragically, seven had lost their lives.
“Tonight we were able to announce that all seven presumptive missing have been found — 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,” she posted online.
“We did not and will not announce any names of the identified victims until we know for certain that their family has been contacted,” Kaag continued, “they have had time to process, and have been able to reach out to other loved ones to let those close to them know.”
We are still working diligently behind the scenes – please utilize us for resources if you were affected – I truly mean it when I say I am so proud of the community, the county, and I am so honored to be the Mayor of West Reading. pic.twitter.com/kWUCNqUh0a
— Mayor Samantha Kaag (@SamanthaKaag) March 27, 2023
CBS News shared images from the scene showing the extent of the damage that led to the condemning of three neighboring structures that included a church and an apartment building.
A large explosion at a chocolate factory in West Reading, Pennsylvania, Friday has left multiple people dead and several missing. Video from the scene shows flames and black smoke billowing hundreds of feet into the air as firefighters put out the blaze. https://t.co/XPHlF75IhE pic.twitter.com/NnluRa9mcT
— CBS News (@CBSNews) March 25, 2023
Employees of R.M. Palmer Company gathered at the site Sunday to hold an impromptu vigil in support of the seven who died and at least 10 who had been injured. Speaking with WFMZ, Diana Jallow said, “We’re just praying for the families. I know they are at a loss.”
She added, “We might have only met you five seconds, we may have only worked for two minutes on the job, but we’re here for you and that’s what we wanted to show: Palmer support.”
Co-worker Bambi Cipolla shared that sentiment and told the outlet, “Now we’re all one team, we’re all family, we’re unity, and we’re going to help each other get through this.”
In a statement posted on its website, the chocolate company said in part, “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. We have lost close friends and colleagues, and our thoughts and prayers are with the families and friends of all who have been impacted. We are sincerely grateful for the extraordinary efforts of all the first responders and for the support of our Reading community, which has been home to our business for more than 70 years.”
Shapiro, who himself had traveled to the site Saturday to pledge support, tweeted Sunday, “This was a tragic weekend in West Reading — but as the community comes together to rebuild, we look for the helpers.”
“The search and rescue specialists, structural engineers, and K-9s of Pennsylvania’s Task Force 1 worked through the weekend to save lives, and continue to do so. From all of us in Pennsylvania: thank you,” the governor said.
From all of us in Pennsylvania: thank you.
— Governor Josh Shapiro (@GovernorShapiro) March 26, 2023
As the investigation continues, another vigil is scheduled for March 31.
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