A catastrophic explosion at the R. M. Palmer Co. chocolate factory in West Reading, Pennsylvania, on Friday night resulted in at least two fatalities and five individuals missing. One person was found alive amid the debris after the explosion leveled the historic factory’s headquarters.
West Reading Mayor Samantha Kaag expressed hope at a press conference on Saturday that more survivors might be discovered, following the overnight rescue of one individual. No information has been released about the rescued person or their injuries.
Structural engineers and K-9 teams from a state urban search and rescue task force are on-site, scouring for signs of life. Pennsylvania Governor Josh Shapiro confirmed the ongoing search efforts during his visit to the location.
At least 10 people were injured in the explosion, with two admitted to Reading Hospital in fair condition and two others transferred to different facilities. Hospital officials reported that the remaining injured individuals were treated and released.
Photographs of the aftermath reveal the devastating extent of the explosion, with bricks, windows, and other factory debris scattered across the street. Smoke continued to rise from the building’s remains. Mayor Kaag, who is also a local firefighter, remarked that the factory was almost entirely destroyed.
The blast was powerful enough to shift a nearby building four feet forward and cause extensive damage to two other buildings. Mayor Kaag declared a state of emergency for the borough to secure additional resources for the scene.
Investigators are currently examining the cause of the explosion, with a gas leak believed to be the most likely explanation. West Reading Borough Council Vice President Philip Wert stated that the destroyed building was constructed in the late 1950s or early 1960s, and officials had to retrieve archived blueprints to better understand the building’s layout and utilities.
Residents living near the renowned chocolate factory felt the impact of the explosion. Kristen Wisniewski, who resides three blocks away, described the blast as the loudest sound she had ever heard.
Authorities have assured the community, located approximately 60 miles northwest of Philadelphia, that there is no danger to the public.
The R.M. Palmer Company, founded in 1948, is one of the nation’s largest confectioners, employing 850 people and specializing in seasonal products, including a wide range of handcrafted Easter bunnies. In a statement released on Saturday afternoon, the company expressed devastation at the tragic events and a commitment to support its employees and their families.
The company expressed gratitude for the first responders’ extraordinary efforts and the support of the Reading community, pledging to work with local and national agencies in the recovery process.