The death toll from the Friday explosion of 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 R.M. Palmer Co. plant on South Second Avenue in the early hours of the day.
Officials have not released any details about the individuals who lost their lives in the incident.
Three people believed to have been inside the plant at the time of the blast are still unaccounted for, Holben said.
The explosion took place just before 5 p.m. Friday, rocking the borough with a loud, quick blast. Rescue crews have been working around the clock since, digging through the debris in hopes of finding survivors.
One survivor was discovered early Saturday morning. Holben said Sunday that a woman was pulled from the rubble after rescue dogs drew emergency personnel close enough that they could hear her calling for help.
It is believed the woman was on the second floor of the building when it exploded. She was found in the basement of the structure.
Officials did not identify the woman and could not provide an update on her condition other than to say she was conscious at the time of her rescue.
“It was great that we found her,” Mayor Samantha Kaag said.
Kaag said the odds of finding other survivors continues to dwindle as the hours pass. On Saturday she said that rescue workers were racing against time, but the next morning her description was more grim.
“Honestly, it’s just a hold out for hope,” she said.
Rescue efforts are expected to continue throughout the day Sunday. Because of that work, roads in the area that have been closed since the blast will remain shut down through at least 8 a.m. Monday, Holben said.
Kaag said that along with the continued rescue efforts, borough officials are trying to provide support to the families of victims. They are coordinating with local service agencies to make sure those families have access to whatever they need, and are meeting with families of those still missing to try to provide as much information to them as they can.
“This is something that we take very seriously, and we hear the concerns and frustrations of those around and the families that are looking for answers,” she said, her eyes reddening as she fought back tears. “We don’t want them to think that we are 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 we are trying to provide as much support as possible.”
As the borough looks to offer support, it is also receiving it, Kaag said. She said she has been overwhelmed with the response to the disaster from the Berks County community as well as the dedication of those working at the scene.
“I am truly proud of every single person for being as strong, confident and graceful as they have,” she said. “We really do really truly do feel for everyone affected by this.”
The mayor said rescuers have been working 12 to 16-hour shifts, often refusing to stop.
“We have to pull them away at this point because they don’t want to stop,” she said, adding that resources are being made available for them to ensure they’re fed, rested and otherwise supported.
“It’s a somber sight at the fire company right now because all of the gear is gone and no one is there,” Kaag said. “Everyone is taking their gear home and sleeping for a few hours and then getting it back on and coming right back.”