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2 dead and 5 unaccounted for after explosion rocks Pennsylvania chocolate factory

The cause of the blast at R.M. Palmer Company in West Reading was unclear.
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Two people are confirmed dead after an explosion rocked a chocolate factory in Pennsylvania, officials said Saturday morning after initially saying that five people had been killed in the explosion.

The Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency had said in a tweet that Berks County had reported five deaths following a blast Friday at R.M. Palmer Company in West Reading, around 63 miles northwest of Philadelphia.

But Mayor Samantha Kaag said that number was inaccurate and two had been killed. Five others remain missing and one person was rescued overnight.

"Some misinformation flows a little bit quicker. Not sure how it got out. If you come to us for the update, lean on us that we can give you the proper counts," Kaag told reporters at a news conference.

A spokeswoman for Reading Hospital said eight people had been brought to the facility. One was transferred, two were in fair condition and the others were released, said the spokeswoman, Jessica Belzer, of Tower Health.

The cause of the blast was unclear. The company did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The explosion occurred at 4:57 p.m., NBC Philadelphia reported. Images posted on social media showed massive flames tearing through the building and a tower of smoke after the arrival of firefighters.

Kaag said the factory was "pretty leveled," and that the explosion was so powerful it pushed a nearby building forward by several feet.

Fire and smoke at the scene of an explosion in West Reading, Pa., on Friday.
Fire and smoke at the scene of an explosion in West Reading, Pa., on Friday.Courtesy Renèe Rivera

"There's not too much to be able to kind of salvage from it," she said.

Sen. Judy Schwank said she was "deeply devastated" by what happened.

"This is an extremely difficult situation — unlike any I can recall us dealing with here in Berks County in recent memory," she said in a statement. "With that said, the response from the West Reading community and beyond has been awe-inspiring. ... I will continue to follow the situation and do everything in my power to ensure all state emergency response resources are available."

Richard M. Palmer Sr. founded the company in 1948 selling a handful of chocolates, including bunnies. R.M. Palmer Company now employs 850 people and sells more than 500 seasonal products, according to the company's website.