An Explosion At A Chocolate Factory Has Left Four People Dead, And Three Others Remain Missing

The explosion on Friday destroyed one of the R.M. Palmer Co. factory's buildings and damaged another.

A busy street scene with rubble, trucks and cranes, and workers

Four people were confirmed dead and three people remained missing as of Sunday in the aftermath of a devastating explosion at a Pennsylvania chocolate factory. 

Wayne Holben, West Reading chief of police, announced at a Sunday morning news conference that the rescue team had found a fourth victim dead beneath the rubble of the R.M. Palmer Co. plant in the borough two days after the factory exploded. 

The explosion, which occurred around 5 p.m. Friday, destroyed one of the factory's buildings and damaged another. Mayor Samantha Kaag said officials are working on finding answers to what caused the deadly explosion. 

“We’re just trying to hold out as much hope as we can to get the right answers, to get quality answers, to get information to those that are affected, and then let it go over to the investigation,” Kaag said.

Residents of West Reading suspected that the cause was a gas leak. 

"Everyone complained about smelling gas, and they kept making them work," Frank DeJesus, a family member of a Palmer employee, told the Associated Press. "The supervisors told them it was nothing, it was being taken care of."

Joseph Swope, a spokesman for UGI Utilities, told BuzzFeed News in a statement that the company did not receive a call before the incident reporting any kind of gas odor or leak.

“We responded to the incident based on the report of an explosion,” Swope said. “We turned off the gas in the area to aid firefighting efforts because our equipment on site was damaged by the explosion.”

On Saturday, Borough Fire Chief Chad Moyer said the chances of finding anyone missing still alive were “decreasing rapidly” due to the “violence of  the explosion” and how much time has passed.

Frankie Gonzalez, whose sister remained missing Sunday, told local news outlet 6 ABC that his family is not giving up hope of finding her. 

"My sister, she came to work and she never made it home," Gonzalez told 6 ABC. "There's still a couple people that are unaccounted for; she's one of them. We're hoping she found a pocket she could hide in."

Kaag added that local officials received a call from the White House on Saturday offering federal assistance and resources. 

In a statement, R.M. Palmer said it will work closely with local and national agencies to assist in the recovery process.

“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 statement read. “We have lost close friends and colleagues, and our thoughts and prayers are with the families and friends of all who have been impacted.”

A spokesperson for regional healthcare system Tower Health told BuzzFeed News that Reading Hospital received 10 people with injuries and of those, one patient was transferred to Lehigh Valley Hospital. As of Sunday, only two people continued to be treated at Reading Hospital, and they were in good and fair condition.

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