Death toll rises in Pennsylvania chocolate factory explosion

West Reading, Pa. (AP) — A fifth body was recovered from the site of a powerful explosion at a chocolate factory in a small town in eastern Pennsylvania, and two more were unaccounted for Sunday.

West Reading Mayor Samantha Cocke said in an email to The Associated Press that a fifth body was found by first responders Sunday morning and confirmed dead by the Berks County Coroner’s Office. The coroner could not confirm the man’s identity, Cocke said.

RM Palmer Co. in the borough of West Reading, about 60 miles (96 kilometers) northwest of Philadelphia. West Reading Borough Police Chief Wayne Holpen confirmed that the body of a fourth victim was found under the rubble early Sunday morning at the plant.

Holben asked for continued prayers from the community and vowed that “rescuers and authorities will not rest until every person affected by this tragedy is accounted for” from Friday’s blast just before 5 p.m.

Rescuers used thermal imaging equipment and dogs to search for survivors after the blast collapsed one building and damaged a neighboring building. Crews are now using heavy equipment to systematically and carefully haul debris from the site, Holben said.

Borough Fire Chief Chad Moyer said Saturday night that the chance of finding survivors is “rapidly diminishing” because of the force of the explosion and the extent of the past. Officials are “hoping to at least get some answers and some recoveries so that people can have that reassurance and that closure,” Cocke said.

“We’re trying to have as much confidence as we can to get the right answers, to get the quality answers, to get the information to the victims, and then get to the investigation,” Cock said.

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Officials said they had no word on the condition of a woman who was rescued from the rubble early Saturday morning. Cocke said she was on the second floor and found herself in a “hopeful situation” and called rescuers after the dog found her, despite her injuries.

Officials did not release any information about the conditions of those taken to hospitals. Reading Hospital said it received 10 patients, two were transferred to other facilities, two were admitted in good and fair condition, and the others were discharged.

In a statement Saturday afternoon, RM Palmer said everyone at the company was “devastated” and that its communications systems were down, reaching employees and their families through first responders and disaster recovery agencies.

Cocke, a volunteer firefighter, said rescue crews were working 12- to 16-hour shifts and were so dedicated to continuing the search that “you have to drag them out at this point.”

Governor Josh Shapiro visited the site Saturday and pledged state support.

Kak said some residents sustained damage to their windows from the blast and asked people to “walk around your house” and report any damage.

State and local fire investigators continue to examine the scene to determine the cause of the explosion.

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