Chocolate factory explosion in Pennsylvania; 2 dead

An explosion Friday at a Pennsylvania chocolate factory killed two people and five more are reported missing, authorities said Saturday. One person was pulled from the rubble overnight.

Rescue teams, with the help of trained dogs and imaging tracking systems, continued to search through the rubble Saturday, hours after the explosion that went off just before 5 pm Friday at the RM Palmer Co. plant in West Reading Township, about 60 miles (96 kilometers) northwest of Philadelphia.

West Reading authorities said Saturday they could only confirm two deaths. The Pennsylvania Office of Emergency Management had previously said five people were dead, citing county officials, but after an update from the county itself, it said two were dead and five were missing.

The chief of the West Reading District Police Department, Wayne Holben, reported that the explosion destroyed a building and damaged a neighboring property. The cause of the explosion at the factory remains under investigation, Holben added to reporters.

“It’s almost flattened,” Mayor Samantha Kaag said of the blast site. “The building in the front, with the church and the apartments, the explosion was so big that it moved that building four feet (1.2 meters) forward.”

Eight people were taken to Reading hospital on Friday night, Tower Health spokeswoman Jessica Bezler said.

Two were admitted in good condition and five were being treated and were about to be released, Bezler reported in an email to The Associated Press. He said a patient was transferred to another center, but he did not give further details.

Mayor Kaag said people were asked to move one block in each direction from the blast site, but no evacuations were ordered.

Dean Murray, the city manager for the West Reading neighborhood, said some residents were displaced from the damaged apartment building. Murray described the RM Palmer plant as “a district staple.”

The company’s website says it has been making “chocolate novelties” since 1948 and currently had 850 employees at its West Reading headquarters.