Another body has been found in the rubble of a West Reading chocolate factory that exploded Friday evening.
Borough officials have confirmed that just before 10:45 a.m. Sunday rescue workers pulled a fifth victim from the debris at the R.M. Palmer Co. plant site. Earlier Sunday, officials had reported that a fourth victim had been discovered in the overnight hours.
The identities and other information about those who lost their lives in the blast have not been released.
Two people believed to have been inside the South Second Avenue facility are still unaccounted for, officials said. Rescue crews are continuing to work around the clock to locate them.
So far, just one survivor has been pulled from the rubble. Officials said that early Saturday morning a woman who is believed to have been working on the second floor of the plant was found covered in debris in the building’s basement. She was located when rescue dogs drew workers close enough to hear her calling for help.
The explosion at the plant happened just before 5 p.m. on Friday. It elicited a shockwave that rattled the small borough, and a loud, quick boom that sent neighbors fleeing into the street.
Officials have said the cause of the explosion is still under investigation.
West Reading Mayor Samantha 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 the rest of 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.”