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The Guardian - US
The Guardian - US
Edward Helmore and agencies

Pennsylvania chocolate factory explodes, killing seven in run up to Easter

A general view shows smoke coming out from a chocolate factory after fire broke out, in West Reading, Pennsylvania, on Friday.
A general view shows smoke coming out from a chocolate factory after fire broke out, in West Reading, Pennsylvania, on Friday. Photograph: TWITTER @Based_In410/Reuters

A powerful explosion at a Pennsylvania chocolate factory known for making chocolate Easter bunnies killed a total of seven people, authorities said, as emergency workers retrieved the last of the bodies.

The deadly blast obliterated the facility 60 miles north-west of Philadelphia a little more than two weeks before Easter. The cause of the explosion remained under investigation on Saturday morning, but officials said they believed it may have resulted from a gas leak, WPVI reported.

Video posted on social media showed how the RM Palmer Company building in West Reading, Pennsylvania, exploded about 5pm on Friday.

Early on Saturday, rescuers found a factory worker who had survived but was trapped, according to the Reading Eagle newspaper. West Reading’s police chief, Wayne Holben, initially expressed hope of finding more survivors.

Rescue crews were using heavy equipment to pull away debris while scanning the site with thermal imaging equipment and using sniffer dogs. The borough fire chief, Chad Moyer, said on Saturday night that the chance of finding survivors was “decreasing rapidly” but the local mayor, Samantha Kaag, called it “a hold out for hope” to get answers for people.

On Sunday though, more bodies were steadily being recovered.

West Reading Mayor Samantha Kaag said: “Please understand that this is a devastating loss, but we are truly grateful to bring closure to the families involved in the upcoming days.”

A number were injured in the blast as well. Reading hospital said it received 10 patients and transferred two to other facilities, while two others were admitted in good and fair condition respectively and the others had been discharged.

The history of chocolate factories is littered with disasters. Some explosions have occurred when combustible starch dust used for shaping candies and bonbon centers has ignited.

Last month, the confectionery company Mars Wrigley was fined more than $14,500 over a mishap in June at its M&M/Mars plant in Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania, in which two workers fell into a vat of chocolate.

Emergency responders were able to free the pair by cutting a hole in the bottom of the tank, according to reports.

According to RM Palmer’s website, the company has specialized in Valentine’s Day, Easter, Christmas and Halloween chocolates since it was founded in 1948. “What began as one man’s dream has grown into a collection of holiday novelties loved by millions of people … making it one of America’s largest and most innovative confectioners”, the website says.

Three buildings around the site were being condemned as a precaution, Kaag said.

“This does not mean they are slated for demolition or uninhabitable. Simply that there will still be work happening around them as we proceed and they will need to be looked at further by structural engineers.”

With Associated Press

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