Survivor pulled from rubble of chocolate factory explosion, 2 killed

"It was the loudest thing I've ever heard in my life," a witness said. "It was scary."

Saturday, March 25, 2023
Chocolate factory explosion in West Reading leaves  2 dead, 5 unaccounted for
Chocolate factory explosion in West Reading leaves 2 dead, 5 unaccounted for

WEST READING, Pennsylvania (WPVI) -- Two people are dead after an explosion and four-alarm fire erupted from a West Reading chocolate factory Friday evening.

In a Saturday morning update, West Reading Police clarified that there are only two confirmed deaths at this time, not five as previously reported.

Five people are still unaccounted for.

Officials say one person was found alive and rescued overnight Saturday. Eight others were taken to the hospital. Their conditions are unknown.

In an update, officials announce that two people are confirmed dead, one person was rescued overnight and five others are unaccounted for.

Several local fire crews responded to the scene. The fire broke out just before 5 p.m. at the RM Palmer Company following a large explosion.

Witnesses reported hearing an explosion coming from the candy factory, then saw flames shortly after.

Kristen Wisniewski lives three blocks from the local and well-known chocolate company.

"It was the loudest thing I've ever heard in my life," she said. "It literally felt like the ground fell out from underneath you. The whole house shook and my dogs froze, they couldn't move, it was scary."

The explosion is believed to have been caused by a gas leak, but officials are still investigating the cause.

No one was evacuated as a result of the explosion. West Reading's mayor, a firefighter herself, was on the scene and asked that anyone within a one-block radius stay away from the area.

"It's pretty leveled, unfortunately there's not too much to be able to salvage from it," said Mayor Samantha Kaag. "In the front, with the church and the apartments, the explosion was so big that it moved that building four feet forward."

The damage is extensive. Officials say RM Palmer Building #2 is destroyed and there's damage at the neighboring Palmer building #1.

When a father and son duo first heard the explosion, they said they didn't know what to think.

"I didn't know, I just come running out and saw that mess over there. I think it was a gas explosion the way it sounded," said Garry Witmoyer from Wyomissing. "It was very scary, the building filled with smoke from just the explosion."

"I didn't see flames at first, just a bunch of shingles and materials falling from the sky. I knew it was an explosion," said Witmoyer's son, Garry Witmoyer Jr.

Officials say there is no danger to the community at this time. Fire crews are still on the scene clearing the debris.

There is no word yet on the condition of those hospitalized. Officials have also not released the victims' names.