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1 person pulled from rubble alive after candy factory explosion

Officials provide update on explosion at West Reading candy factory
Officials provide update on explosion at West Reading candy factory 01:06


WEST READING, Pa. (CBS) -- One person was found alive in the rubble and rescue efforts continue after an explosion at the R.M. Palmer Company chocolate factory in Berks County, Pennsylvania, local officials said in a news conference Saturday morning.

West Reading Mayor Samantha Kaag said two people are confirmed dead and five are still missing after the explosion at the factory on South Second Avenue in West Reading Friday.

"The discovery of life overnight ... provides hope that others still may be found," police chief Wayne Holben said. Rescuers are using specialized equipment like K9s and imaging technology to look for signs of life.

"We had about 8 go to the hospital last night, but we can't speculate on their condition or on if there's any more or less," Kaag said. "Unfortunately it's a tragic event that we're still gathering information on."

The Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency had said five people were dead, but later told CBS News Philadelphia the death toll was two.

West Reading officials disputed PEMA's statement and PEMA later sent an update confirming two were dead.

Gov. Josh Shapiro and PEMA visited the scene, his office said in a statement. PEMA and Pennsylvania State Police are working together.

Structural engineering experts, building experts and rescue specialists from a state task force are all at the scene. Responding agencies are bringing tents to keep the area dry in case of rain.

Phil Wert, vice president of West Reading Borough Council, said the borough went through its archives last night to find blueprints and better understand the layout of the building to assist in rescue efforts.

"Someone was found alive that was in rubble, not knowing whether they were going to live or die, and fortunately we found that person, and they've got a second chance," Wert said. "And hopefully, fingers crossed, we're going to find more, and if not, we'll have to come together again as a community and support those folks."

Rail traffic in the area has resumed, with a speed restriction at 5 mph.

Recovery efforts for the remaining people are continuing Saturday.

Yesterday, Kaag described what she saw at RM Palmer Company, a chocolate factory in business since 1948 that employed 850 people.

"It's pretty leveled," Kaag said Friday. "Pretty scary."

Responders found one building of the company destroyed and an apartment building and church damaged.

Despite the destruction witnessed Friday, officials say neighbors don't have to worry about their own well-being.

"There is no danger," Holben said Friday.

This was the scene as crews responded to the blaze at the chocolate factory.  


"We're not evacuating," Kaag said. "No evacuations happening."

UGI officials were on the scene with first responders.

The mayor is heartened by her community's quick and all-hands-on-deck response to the tragedy.

"A lot of the community is taken care of and handled," Kaag said.

As of Friday night, officials had not been in contact with anyone from RM Palmer.

Now, while the investigation into the cause of the explosion continues, so does the rescue operation.

People who live in the apartment building have been displaced, and there's no word yet on when they will be allowed to go back home.

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