US – Pennsylvania-based chocolate factory R.M. Palmer Company has said it will continue to coordinate with local and national agencies to assist in the recovery process following an explosion in its factory that has, so far, left seven dead.
R.M. Palmer was founded in 1948 and employs around 850 people, according to its website. It is known for making seasonal chocolates, including hollow milk chocolate bunnies for Easter.
The explosion, which occurred Friday in West Reading, has left seven people dead and several others injured, while destroying buildings.
In a statement, RM Palmer said it is “devastated by the tragic events.” It added that it has been unable to get in touch with the families of impacted employees due to downed communication systems.
“We will be providing additional information and making contact with employees, impacted families, and the community as soon as possible. We have lost close friends and colleagues, and our thoughts and prayers are with the families and friends of all who have been impacted,” the company said.
“We are sincerely grateful for the extraordinary efforts of all the first responders and for the support of our Reading community, which has been home to our business for more than 70 years.”
West Reading Police Chief Wayne Holben said noted investigation to determine the official cause of the fire is underway.
Frankie Gonzalez, a resident, said workers had told him that before the explosion, they had been warning each other that they smelled natural gas and reported it to plant managers.
He also highlighted that his son and a nephew had worked at the factory within the past year and had also told their supervisors they smelled gas.
“In the initial incident report from Berks County to PEMA, a reference to a gas leak was included. It is really important to note that incident reports from counties are a snapshot in time of the understanding of the incident at the time the report was made,” Ruth A. Miller, PEMA’s communications director, said in a statement.
Joseph Swope, a spokesman for UGI Utilities, a natural gas and electric company that serves the area, explained that UGI did not receive a call before the incident for a gas odor or gas leak.
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