At least two people were killed and at least five others remained 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 on Friday.
The cause of the explosion was under investigation, he said.
Chief Holben said at a news conference on Saturday morning that two people were dead and at least five people were missing.
He said one person was found alive in the rubble overnight and that it “provides hope that others still might be found.”
Search and rescue workers were clearing debris on Saturday and using dogs and specialized imaging equipment to find signs of life, Chief Holben said.
Earlier on Saturday, the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency said that five people had died in the explosion and six others were missing. Officials in West Reading disputed those numbers and the agency later amended its own figures.
“We can confirm our numbers for now,” Chief Holben said.
A deputy coroner at the Berks County Coroner’s Office, Holly Stavarski, said on Saturday that at least two people had died.
Ruth A. Miller, communications director for the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency, said in an email on Saturday after the news conference that the agency’s death toll was based on numbers reported to it by “the county.”
She said on Saturday afternoon that the county was now reporting at least two people dead and five others missing.
Reading Hospital received a total of eight patients, a spokeswoman, Jessica Bezler, said on Friday. She said one of the patients had been transferred, two had been admitted in fair condition and the others would be discharged.
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 on Friday after she responded to the scene. “Unfortunately, it wasn’t a great scene to come into. It was pretty scary.”
Chief Holben said on Friday 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 requests for comment.
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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