Five people were killed and six others were missing after a powerful explosion ripped through a chocolate factory in West Reading, Pa., on Friday, sending a plume of smoke into the air and shaking houses blocks away, officials said.
The explosion at around 5 p.m. destroyed one building and damaged another at the R.M. Palmer Company chocolate factory in West Reading, about 60 miles northwest of Philadelphia, the police chief, Wayne Holben, said at a news conference.
The cause of the explosion was under investigation, he said.
Ruth A. Miller, communications director for the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency, said in an email on Saturday that seven people were taken to local hospitals.
The explosion sent a column of debris, flames and dust shooting into the air, as shown in a video that was captured by weather cameras and shared on Twitter by a reporter for Fox 29 News in Philadelphia.
“The explosion was so big that it moved that building four feet forward,” Mayor Samantha Kaag, who is also a firefighter, said at the news conference after she responded to the scene. “Unfortunately, it wasn’t a great scene to come into. It was pretty scary.”
Chief Holben said that there was no danger to the surrounding area but the authorities were urging people to avoid the scene. He said that a command center had been set up to coordinate the local and state agencies that were responding to the explosion.
R.M. Palmer, founded in 1948, employs 850 people, according to its website, and is known for making seasonal chocolates, including hollow milk chocolate bunnies for Easter. Dean Murray, the West Reading borough manager, called the company “a staple of the borough.”
“Our thoughts and prayers go out to everybody involved,” he said.
The company did not immediately respond to an email on Friday night.
In an interview, Ms. Kaag said she had felt the explosion at her house, four or five blocks from the factory.
“I didn’t hear a boom,” she said. “I just felt it shake my house.”
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