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Death toll in Pennsylvania chocolate factory blast rises to seven

(Reuters) – The death toll from an explosion at a chocolate factory in Pennsylvania has risen to seven people, with authorities ending a search for those believed to be missing following Friday’s blast.

The number of people who were killed slowly rose throughout the weekend as rescue crews sifted through the rubble of the building that was home to the R.M. Palmer Co in West Reading, a town of 4,500 about 60 miles (97 km) northwest of Philadelphia.

“This is a devastating loss but we are truly grateful to account for all presumptive missing,” West Reading Borough Mayor Samantha Kaag said at a news briefing on Sunday, announcing that two more people were found deceased, increasing the total to seven.

Seven other people were taken to local hospitals with injuries, said the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency (PEMA) on Friday.



Authorities will conduct an investigation to determine the cause of the explosion, said PEMA, which mentioned a possible issue with a gas lead.

R.M. Palmer said its email and phone systems were down following the blast and that it was relying on emergency authorities to get in touch with employees and their families.

“Everyone at R.M. Palmer is devastated by the tragic events at one of our West Reading facilities and we are focused on supporting our employees and their families,” the company said in a statement on Facebook on Sunday.

The company did not provide a cause for the explosion or offer other details.

Images on social media of the explosion’s aftermath showed a vast pile of debris and massive flames letting off large plumes of thick black smoke in a downtown area surrounded by other buildings.

R.M. Palmer Company was founded in 1948. It employs some 850 people and creates 500 unique chocolate and candy products, according to its website.

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Chicago; Editing by Bernadette Baum)

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