The death toll from Friday’s explosion at a West Reading chocolate factory has risen to four.
During a Sunday morning press briefing, Police Chief Wayne Holben announced that a fourth body had been pulled from the rubble of the RM Palmer Co. plant. on South Second Avenue in the early hours of the afternoon.
Officials have not released any details about those killed in the incident.
Three people believed to be inside the plant at the time of the blast are still missing, Holben said.
The blast happened just before 5pm on Friday, rocking the area with a loud, quick blast. Since then, rescuers have been working around the clock digging through the rubble in the hope of finding survivors.
One survivor was found early Saturday morning. Holben said Sunday that the woman was pulled from the rubble after rescue dogs pulled emergency workers close enough that they could hear her crying for help.
It is believed that the woman was on the second floor of the building at the time of the explosion. She was found in the basement of the building.
Officials did not identify the woman and could not provide an update on her condition, other than that she was conscious at the time of the rescue.
“It’s great that we found her,” said Mayor Samantha Kaag.
Kaag said the chances of finding other survivors continue to diminish as the hours pass. While she said on Saturday that rescuers were racing against time, on Sunday her description was more bleak.
“Honestly, it’s just hope,” she said.
Rescue efforts at the site are expected to continue throughout Sunday. Because of that work, roads in the area that were closed after the explosion will remain closed until at least 8 a.m. Monday, Holben said.
Kaag said that along with the ongoing rescue operations, district authorities are also trying to provide support to the families of the victims. They coordinate with local services to make sure families have access to everything they need and meet personally with the families of those still missing to try and give them as much information as possible.
“This is something we take very seriously and we hear the concern and frustration of those around us and the families who are looking for answers,” she said, her eyes red as she fought back tears. “We don’t want them to think that we’re just not paying attention to them or that they have to go to the news to get those answers. We are here for them and try to provide as much support as possible.”
When the district seeks to offer support, it also receives it, Kaag said. She said she was impressed with the response to the crash from the Berks County community, as well as the dedication of those working at the scene.
“I’m really proud of every single person for being as strong, confident and graceful as they are,” she said. “We really do have our deepest sympathies for everyone affected.”
The mayor said that the rescuers work for 12-16 hours, often refusing to stop.
“We have to pull them away at that point because they don’t want to stop,” she said, adding that resources are being put in place for them to ensure they are fed, rested and otherwise supported.
“It’s a grim sight in the fire company right now because all the equipment is gone and nobody’s there,” Kaag said. “Everyone takes their gear home and sleeps for a few hours and then puts it back on and comes back.”