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Seven dead after explosion at Pennsylvania chocolate factory

In this screen grab from video provided by WPVI-TV/6ABC, smoke rises from an explosion at the R.M. Palmer Co. plant in West Reading, Pa., Friday, March 24, 2023. (WPVI-TV/6ABC via AP)

Seven people are dead after an explosion at a chocolate factory in Pennsylvania, local officials said. 

West Reading Police Chief Wayne Holben said at a press conference on Friday that a large explosion occurred just before 5 p.m. at the R.M. Palmer Co. plant in the town, about 60 miles northeast of Philadelphia. He said the explosion destroyed one of the company’s buildings and damaged another. 

Holben said authorities were investigating the cause of the explosion. He said no danger remained to the surrounding area, but residents should avoid the area where the explosion occurred and follow law enforcement officials’ instructions. 

Holben said at the Friday update that two people had died and nine were missing.

The death toll later rose to seven as additional individuals were found.

A spokesperson for the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency said a gas leak might have caused the explosion. 

Eight people were also taken to Reading Hospital on Friday for injuries from the blast. Five of them were being treated and were set to be released, while two were admitted in fair condition. One was transferred to another medical facility.

Dean Murray, the borough manager for West Reading, said at the press conference that R.M. Palmer has been a “staple” of the borough. 

West Reading Mayor Samantha Kaag said officials set up a radius of about a block on both sides of the plant to redirect people. 

Kaag said in a statement early Saturday morning that she had been reassured to see the local community come together. She said she hoped the remaining victims are found safe and the community continues to provide the victims with support. 

“The tragic explosion at R.M. Palmer company and loss of life has shaken our community. It is always difficult to come to terms with such sudden and unexpected events and unfortunately that is what has happened today. Our deepest sympathies are with the families and friends of those who have been affected,” she said. 

R.M. Palmer said in a Facebook post that it was sending “heartfelt condolences” to families who have lost loved ones and are hoping for a quick recovery for those injured. It said the company is offering grief counseling for all employees who would like it.

The company said the plant will remain closed until it is sure that workers can safely return.

“We have always viewed our employees as family, and are focused now more than ever on providing any support we can to you and the families of employees directly affected by this tragedy,” it said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Updated on March 28 at 2:30 p.m.

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