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Officials: 7 dead, everyone accounted for in West Reading blast

Four casualties were confirmed Sunday two days after an explosion at the R.M. Palmer Co. chocolate factory in West Reading, Berks County Friday.

WEST READING, Pa. — Update, March 26: After two days of searching, West Reading officials confirmed that four more people were found dead Sunday in the rubble of the R.M. Palmer chocolate factory explosion. The discoveries bring the death toll to seven.

Police Chief Wayne Holben said rescue crews believe that all presumptive missing have been accounted for.

The cause of the blast is currently under investigation. West Reading Mayor Samantha Kaag said the identities of the deceased will not be released until families have been notified and have time to process their losses.

Kaag shared this message on Twitter following Sunday night's press conference.

The block of South Second Street between Penn Avenue and Franklin Street will be closed indefinitely while the investigation continues.

Reading Mayor Eddie Moran said a candlelight vigil is in the works for Friday, March 31, at 7 p.m.

Previous, March 26: On Sunday during a news conference, West Reading officials announced the discovery of a fourth body following Friday evening's explosion.

Officials say, three people remain missing.

Recovery efforts continue.

Previous, March 25: West Reading officials confirmed that another body was recovered Saturday in the rubble left in the aftermath of Friday's explosion at the R.M. Palmer Chocolate factory. The discovery brings the death toll to three.

As of 9 p.m. Saturday night, four people remained missing and an unknown number are hospitalized.

Borough residents, including Rod Stout, watched on as rescue and recovery efforts continued throughout the day Saturday.

"The whole building shook," Stout said. "I thought the train came off the tracks,"

Stout, a native of West Reading, lives on the corner of Franklin Street and Second Avenue just a few hundred feet from the factory. He was home when the building exploded Friday afternoon.

"I was shook up," Stout said. "I immediately called down to make sure my father was okay, then I let my children and my brother know we were both okay."

Shattered glass could be seen on the ground at a restaurant on the corner of Franklin and South Second Street.

However, the blast was felt across the community. 

Borough resident Ryan Regner lives just down the road on Penn avenue, and was getting ready for work at the time of the explosion.

"There's so many thoughts going through your head when a time like this arises," Regner said.

Regner said he wasn't sure what the noise was until he went outside.

"You just see a big puff of black smoke," Regner said. "We knew something serious was going on."

A suspected gas leak caused the explosion, though the investigation is ongoing and officials cannot confirm.

Residents are still processing the shock.

"There's nothing you could do with this situation," Stout said.

"This is a time where you just got to pray for the families and take care of one another," Regner said.

West Reading Fire Chief Chad Moyer said crews will continue to work on site and that nearby roads would remain closed as late as 8 a.m. Monday morning, though that time is subject to change.

"People were coming out of their doors making sure everyone was okay, asking if everyone was alright," West Reading Mayor Samantha Kaag said. "It's wonderful to see our tight-knit community come together."

You can watch the full briefing from Kaag, West Reading Fire Chief Chad Moyer, and Police Chief Wayne Holben below:

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