Death toll climbs after chocolate factory explosion

March 25 (UPI) -- The toll after an explosion at a Pennsylvania chocolate factory climbed Saturday night after a third person died.

The rise in the death toll was reported by CNN and The New York Times after two people were reported dead earlier Saturday.


"The tragic events that occurred on Friday have had a profound impact on all of us at R.M. Palmer, and we appreciate the outpouring of support as all of us continue to deal with the loss of our friends and coworkers," the factory said in a statement Saturday.

"We offer our heartfelt condolences to those families who have lost loved ones and hope those injured will recover quickly."

The factory said that the plant will remain closed and inaccessible for the time being.

One person was pulled alive from the rubble while rescue efforts continued Saturday following the powerful explosion at the R.M. Palmer Co. chocolate factory in West Reading, northwest of Philadelphia.


Mayor Samantha Kaag told reporters that another eight were taken by ambulance to area hospitals overnight.

West Reading Police Chief Wayne Holben said during a briefing that the discovery of life overnight "provides hope that others still may be found."

First responders are continuing rescue efforts using specialized equipment.

The Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency was reporting five deaths with six injuries following the blast at the chocolate factory.

Kaag, however, refuted those numbers and chastised the state agency.

"That is not accurate," she said of the report of five deaths. "Come to us for the updates ... lean on us for the proper counts.

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

"We can confirm our numbers, for now," Holben added.

The explosion happened just before 5 p.m. on Friday, shaking the surrounding neighborhood while leveling at least one building and causing what appeared to be extensive damage to a nearby structure.

Traffic camera footage showed massive flames and thick plumes of black smoke rising into the air at the scene of the explosion.

Tower Health spokeswoman Jessica Bezler told WGAL-TV eight injured people were taken to Reading Hospital.

The cause of the explosion remains under investigation.

"The tragic explosion at R.M. Palmer Company and loss of life has shaken our community," Kaag said in an issued statement.

"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."

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