On Mar. 26, seven people were found dead at the site of a massive explosion that rocked a chocolate factory in the small town of West Reading in eastern Pennsylvania. An investigation is currently underway to find out what caused the explosion that occurred on Mar. 24.
In a statement on Sunday, West Reading Mayor Samantha Kaag announced that two more bodies were found, bringing the total lives lost to seven, Fox News reported.
“Tonight we were able to announce that all seven presumptive missing have been found — please understand that this is still a devastating loss,” Kaag wrote, adding that, “But we are truly grateful to bring closure to the families involved in the upcoming days.”
The identities of the victims will remain anonymous until authorities can confirm that the families have been notified.
“We did not and will not announce any names of the identified victims until we know for certain that their family has been connected, they have had time to process, and have been able to reach out to other loved ones to let those close to them know,” the mayor added.
The blast occurred right before 5 p.m. on Friday, destroying the R.M. Palmer factory’s two buildings. At least 10 people were injured in the explosion, while several surrounding buildings were damaged or destroyed, including the C&S medical supply building, another Palmer building, an apartment building and a church located nearby.
“It sounded like a bomb went off,” resident Doug Olexy said according to AP News. He was working at home when his house shook from the blast. “I mean all of our houses shook, I’ve never heard as loud of an explosion in my life.”
Hours after the explosion, rescue efforts were underway with first responders searching through the rubble. By Saturday, three bodies were found, according to the Berks County Medical Examiner and Coroner. Around that time, the four remaining fatalities were initially labelled as missing while the search for answers continued by state and local fire investigators.
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One survivor was found late Saturday, bringing hope that others would be found alive, however no other survivors were found.
The ten injured survivors were sent to Reading Hospital; two of them were transferred to other facilities.
Three of the buildings impacted have to be condemned while an investigation is launched to identify the cause of the explosion.
“This does not mean they are slated for demolition or uninhabitable — simply that there will still be work happening around them as we proceed and will need to be looked at further by structural engineers before being released,” Kaag said.
The mayor also declared that the community would hold a candlelight vigil for the fallen at 7:30 p.m. on Mar. 31.
“We are still working diligently behind the scenes — please utilize us for resources if you were affected — I truly mean it when I say I am proud of the community, the county, and I am so honored to be the Mayor of West Reading,” Kaag posted on social media.
“The investigation efforts will now be underway and we can find answers to how this happened and how/if we can prevent it from happening in the future.”
According to R.M. Palmer’s website, the company — while overshadowed by Hersheys, which has its own headquarters less than an hour away — has made chocolate novelties since 1948 with 850 employees currently working at its West Reading headquarters. It has been advertising Easter treats like chocolate bunnies and “the newest milk chocolate hollow.”