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Search Intensifies for Missing Following Deadly Chocolate Factory Explosion

by Gabriel Martinez
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On Friday, an explosion at a chocolate factory in Pennsylvania tragically killed three people and left five missing. Later that night, one person was found alive from the rubble. On Saturday, rescue crews with their dogs and special equipment were looking through the wreckage of the R.M. Palmer Co. plant (about 60 miles northwest of Philadelphia).

The Berks County Medical Examiner and Coroner announced on Saturday night that three people had passed away. Initially, the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency said five people had died, but then later revised their statement with information from the county that two individuals had actually died and five were missing.

Police Chief Wayne Holben said that one person had been rescued from the collapsed building, which also damaged another building nearby. This action gave people hope that other survivors could be found too. Emergency workers are working hard to locate anyone else who may have been affected, using special equipment and dogs to help them search through any debris. The cause of the blast is still being investigated.

Mayor Samantha Kaag said that the explosion was so powerful it actually moved a building four feet forward. It kind of leveled the site, she said.

Reading Hospital said on Saturday afternoon they had 10 patients, one of them was transported to Lehigh Valley Hospital and another one to Penn State Health St. Joseph Medical Center. Two of them were admitted with good and fair health respectively, while the rest have already been sent back home.

UGI Utilities (a company) also said that their workers had arrived at the scene since an explosion occurred which caused gas to leak out, helping make the fire bigger.

UGI spokesperson Joseph Swope said on Saturday that they had not received any reports about a gas leak or gas order before the incident. He also added that UGI is helping in the investigation, which includes inspecting their facilities near the area.

R.M. Palmer released a statement later on Saturday saying everyone from their company was really saddened by what happened and were mostly concentrating on providing aid to employees and their families during this tough time.

We feel really sad for all we have lost and are sending our thoughts and prayers to their families. We appreciate the work of the first responders and all the help from the Reading community, which has been an important part of our business for over 70 years.

R.M. Palmer wanted to get in touch with its employees and their families, but the phones and other communication systems were broken, so it got help from first responders and groups that are good at solving problems related to disasters. The company said they would share more information as soon as possible and would contact the employees, their families, and people living near them who have been affected by this disaster.

Kaag asked people nearby to move away from the area, but no one had to leave their homes. She did this so the first responders could have more help available. Dean Murray said that some people living in an apartment building were affected and had to find somewhere else to live temporarily.

Governor Josh Shapiro and the Director of the Emergency Management Agency went to visit a site on Saturday. He promised that he will provide any resources necessary for the ongoing recovery efforts which includes already deployed assets.

Experts in building structures, along with special fire investigation dogs, came to help overnight. More people have come today to join them. The state police are helping too.

Philip Wert, the vice president of the West Reading council, said that the building had been constructed many years ago. To get a better understanding of the building’s layout and its systems (like water and electricity) they needed to look through their archives. They did this last night.

Frank Gonzalez was standing on a hill and watching people work to clear the rubble from an explosion. He said that one person was found alive which is a good thing. He mentioned his sister, Diana Cedeno, was working at the plant when the explosion happened and now she’s missing. Hopefully, more people will be found alive soon.

He was feeling frustrated because he wasn’t getting information from the authorities about his sister’s search. He and his family were trying their best to keep her name alive in case she ever needed help. His sister has two grown-up kids, including a son who is currently away on duty, plus she sometimes works as party decorator and is taking classes for ministry at her church.

Gonzalez said his son and nephew used to work in a plant which had an unpleasant smell. They told their supervisors about it, but were reassured that everything was “okay”. His son then decided to quit the job because he couldn’t handle the smell anymore.

Frank DeJesus said his stepdaughter, Arelis Rivera Santiago, who worked in the building next to his workplace, was inside when the ceiling suddenly fell apart. She had to escape by crawling under the machines. He rushed over to the scene and saw her very upset and crying so much that she wasn’t able to talk about what happened right away.

On Friday, many employees at the same plant including DeJesus’ stepdaughter had complained about being able to smell gas all day long.

People were complaining about smelling gas, and their bosses made them keep working without fixing the problem. An email was sent to someone called R.M Palmer asking for comments about what happened next.

Doug Olexy was at home when a huge explosion rocked his house, making all the windows rattle and the walls tremble.

He said, “It sounded like a huge boom! We felt our houses shake and it was the loudest explosion I have ever heard.” As soon as he and all of his neighbours went outside, they saw huge clouds of dark smoke. He thought it probably came from a train crashing because there were tracks nearby. Later he found out it was from the Palmer plant which is known all over West Reading for making chocolate. He said everyone knows Palmer Chocolate!

R.M. Palmer has been making chocolate treats for more than 70 years, and it now employs 850 people in West Reading. On its Facebook page, it is advertising Easter chocolate bunnies and one bunny with jelly beans inside this month. Even though R.M Palmer makes sweet delicacies, Hershey is still the most well-known company as it’s located just an hour to Its west.

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