An explosion at a historic chocolate factory in southeastern Pennsylvania left five people dead, several missing and eight injured.
West Reading Borough Police Department Chief Wayne Holben confirmed two fatalities and nine missing after an explosion at the R.M. Palmer Co. chocolate factory in West Reading shortly before 5 p.m. Officials revised that figure on the morning to five dead, with six people still missing, Fox 29 reported.
Tower Health spokeswoman Jessica Bezler told The Associated Press in an email that eight others were taken to Reading Hospital with injuries Friday evening. Bezler said two people were admitted in fair condition and five others were treated and released.
She added that one victim was transported to another facility. Limited details are available on that person’s condition.
Firefighters responded to the facility on South 2nd Avenue in the heart of the town after reports of an explosion and a multi-alarm fire, FOX 29 Philadelphia reported. The outlet’s weather camera captured the massive explosion, which sent large debris flying into the air and left a cloud of thick, billowing smoke.
The blast caused significant destruction, leveling R.M. Palmer’s Building 2 and causing damage to Building 1.
Holden said there was no further danger but advised residents to avoid the area surrounding the factory until further notice. He also said investigators are working to determine the cause of the explosion.
Liz Soto, who was near the explosion, told FOX 29 she heard “a loud noise, like a roaring sound, then the house shook.” She also said she hadn’t heard from a friend who works inside the factory.
“She went to work, she’s confirmed to have gone to work, but we don’t know anything about her,” Soto told the outlet.
As of late Friday night, various fire departments remained at the scene.
According to R.M. Palmer’s website, the company has been in business since 1948 and has over 850 employees at the headquarters in West Reading.
The candy factory is known for its seasonal novelties, like chocolate Easter bunnies, and is one of America’s largest and most innovative confectioners.