West Reading community comes together 1 year after deadly chocolate factory explosion

Bryanna Gallagher Image
Monday, March 25, 2024
Community comes together one year after chocolate factory explosion
Community comes together one year after chocolate factory explosion

WEST READING, Pennsylvania (WPVI) -- Sunday marked one year since a tragedy rocked the West Reading, Berks County community. Now, they're coming back stronger to remember the lives lost.

"It's really hard. It's hard to believe. I miss them all," sobbed Daryl Ritchie, a Palmer Employee.

Sunday was a day of remembrance in West Reading, as it marked one year since seven people were killed in an explosion at the R.M. Palmer Company.

"I left at 3:30 that day when it blew up. It's so hard to believe. I'm at a loss for words. I miss them all," said Ritchie.

Families planted flowers at a memorial garden outside of the West Reading Fire Department. It's a place where people will be able to go back and visit and reflect.

SEE ALSO: 7 victims killed in West Reading chocolate factory explosion identified

Later, members of the community met in prayer at Bethany Lutheran Church, before walking to where building two once stood.

"I've worked at Palmers for the past 19 years, and so they were my coworkers, like family. This is all like our home," said Jennifer Adames.

One by one, families released seven doves for the seven victims. Tears were shed, as they grieved together as a community.

"It's been a wild year it feels like it's been a minute and five years all at the same time. It was heartwarming to do it as a community side by side with families and employees, everybody that was there," explained Samantha Kaag the Mayor of West Reading.

As West Reading continues to move forward, they'll never forget what happened last March.

"Coming back is very difficult in itself. Coming back in this way, this is the first time in a year I've stepped on the property. Seeing the way it is now, it's vastly different," said Kaag.

Palmer Strong is what the community has been saying for the past year and that won't change.

Some rubble still remains where building two once stood, next to it seven wreaths have been placed to honor the seven victims.

No plans have been made on what to do with the space, but the mayor says they hope to make a decision very soon.

In February, the NTSB released new details about the deadly explosion.

More than 100 people were working in both RM Palmer buildings at the time.

Employees reported the smell of gas an hour before the blast. No one gave an evacuation order. The NTSB found RM Palmer's emergency preparedness plan did not include procedures regarding natural gas emergencies.

The company has since updated its employee manuals and added natural gas detectors in other buildings.