7 killed in Pennsylvania chocolate factory explosion, officials say
Four more people have been found dead following a chocolate factory explosion in West Reading, Pennsylvania, last week, raising the death toll to seven, officials said Sunday night. All previously missing persons had been accounted for as of Sunday night.
Rescue crews worked overnight to inspect the rubble at the R.M. Palmer Company and discovered a fourth victim beneath debris early on Sunday morning, said West Reading police chief Wayne Holben said during a news conference earlier Sunday morning. The individual was pronounced dead at the scene.
"Crews are continuing their diligent effort in sifting through the debris in order to locate any additional individuals," the police chief said, adding that crews "are fully committed to this task" and "will do everything in our power to ensure that we bring closure to all those involved."
"I want to assure you all that we will not rest until every single person affected by this tragedy has been accounted for," said Holben. He could not provide an update about the woman who was pulled alive from the rubble on Saturday.
A fifth body was found around 10:42 a.m. Sunday and was confirmed dead by the Berks County Coroner's Office, according to a statement from West Reading Mayor Samantha Kaag.
The sixth and seventh bodies were removed from the rubble later Sunday. None of the deceased were immediately identified.
"Please be patient and respectful as we work with the county to get the families information, closure, and resources for now and the foreseeable future," Kaag said in a statement Sunday night.
R.M. Palmer, a candy company, operates a large factory building in West Reading, where the explosion occurred on Friday night. Videos recorded at the site showed flames and thick clouds of black smoke engulfing the building and billowing hundreds of feet into the air.
Three other buildings around the site of the blast have been condemned out of precaution.
"The investigation efforts will now be under way and we can find answers to how this happened and how/if we can prevent it from happening in the future," Kaag wrote Sunday night on Facebook.
CBS Philadelphia reported at the time that 10 people were hospitalized with injuries sustained in the incident, six of whom had already been discharged. A spokesperson for Reading Hospital told CBS News that eight patients had been admitted there.
As emergency personnel continued to search for missing people, Fire Chief Chad Moyer said on Sunday that the likelihood of finding survivors decreases as time passes, CBS Philadelphia reported.
"Due to the violence of the explosion and the amount of time that has passed, the chance of finding survivors is decreasing rapidly," Moyer said.
R.M. Palmer acknowledged the explosion in a statement shared to its website and said the company is "devastated by tragic events that occurred Friday evening."
"Everyone at R.M. Palmer is devastated by tragic events that occurred Friday evening at one of our West Reading facilities we are focused on supporting our employees and their families," the statement read in part. "We have lost close friends and colleagues, and our thoughts and prayers are with the families and friends of all who have been impacted."
The candy company, which makes seasonal chocolates for occasions like Easter, Christmas and Halloween, employs about 850 people, according to its website. The factory in West Reading has been there since the early 1960s.
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