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West Reading chocolate factory explosion: 7 dead as final 2 victims found

West Reading officials announced Sunday night that they believe the final two victims of the Friday explosion at a R.M. Palmer Co. chocolate factory have been found.

Police Chief Wayne Holben said at a press briefing just after 9 p.m. that rescue workers had found the bodies earlier in the evening and that they are believed to be the remaining two individuals who were listed as missing earlier in the day. Their identities will be confirmed by the Berks County Coroner’s Office, he said.

One of the victims was found around 6:50 p.m., and the other around 8:20 p.m., Holben said.

The deaths bring the total number killed in the blast to seven.

Officials have not provided any information about the victims. Mayor Samantha Kaag said Sunday night that their identities will not be released until their families are notified and have a chance to process the news.

With all of the victims now accounted for, the main focus of work at the scene in the first block of South Second Avenue will move from rescue and recovery operation to investigation, Holben said. Officials have declined to speculate what may have caused the devastating blast that shook the borough just before 5 p.m. Friday.

“This is really just the start of everything,” Kaag said. ““Now, it’s not only the cleanup but getting answers and getting those resources for our community to replace what we lost.”

Holben lauded the work of everyone who has been part of the difficult, non-stop work over the past two days at the Palmer site.

“Throughout this tragedy I have been impressed with the extraordinary efforts and dedication of all the agencies that have come together to support our borough,” he said. “The firefighters, the law enforcement agencies and search and rescue teams. I applaud their work and commitment to our community.

“I would especially like to take a moment to acknowledge the fierce dedication and outstanding work of the West Reading Borough Police Department and the West Reading Borough Fire Department,” he added. “Your commitment to your community is something to be proud of. It has been a challenging past few days, however it has been an honor to work shoulder-to-shoulder with these individuals and I would not have had it any other way.”

As the investigation and cleanup at the blast site continues, three nearby buildings will remain condemned as a precautionary measure, Kaag said. A building to the north of the site that houses apartments and a church, a Palmer building to the south and CNS Medical Supply to the west will all need to remain uninhabited until engineers are able to deem them safe, she said.

“This doesn’t mean they are slated for demolition or are inhabitable, simply that there will still be work happening around them as we proceed and will need to be looked at further by structural engineers before being released,” she said.

Kaag also said that road closures in the area will remain in effect. She said the borough will notify the public when roads are reopened, but that Second Avenue and Franklin Street will remain shut down in the area “indefinitely.”

Reporter Karen Shuey contributed to this story.

Source: Berkshire mont

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