(Video credit: Fire Alerts of Berks County, LLC via Storyful)
WEST READING, Pa. (AP) — An explosion at a chocolate factory in Pennsylvania on Friday killed two people and left five people missing, authorities said. One person was pulled from the rubble overnight.
Rescue crews using dogs and imaging equipment continued to search through the rubble Saturday — hours after the blast that erupted just before 5 p.m. Friday at the R.M. Palmer Co. plant in the borough of West Reading, about 60 miles (96 kilometers) northwest of Philadelphia.
West Reading officials said Saturday they could confirm only two fatalities. The Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency had earlier said there were five fatalities, citing county emergency management officials, but after an update from the county also indicated that two had died and five were missing.
Chief of Police Wayne Holben said the rescue of one person from the rubble “provides hope that others still may be found.” 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.
The explosion sent a plume of black smoke into the air, destroying one building and damaging a neighboring building that included apartments.
“It’s pretty leveled,” West Reading Borough 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 northwest of Philadelphia was under investigation, Holden told reporters.
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.