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State and local authorities will work together to investigate West Reading factory explosion

  • Robby Brod

Multiple state and local agencies have launched investigations into the deadly explosion at the R.M. Palmer Company chocolate factory on Friday. The explosion killed seven people, injured many others, and caused three buildings, including 40 apartments, to be condemned.

At a news conference Monday, West Reading officials outlined the process for investigations into the cause and origin of the explosion. The state police fire marshal unit will conduct the investigation and share its findings with the West Reading police, who will then determine what information to release to the public.

Trooper David Boehn said he doesn’t know how long the investigation will take.

“Until we have all the answers that our fire marshals want to gather, it’s going to take however long it takes,” Boehn said.

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Cleaning up the site of the explosion will be a lengthy process that will involve removing debris, clearing the area, and ensuring buildings are safe to occupy, police Chief Wayne Holben said. Holben asked the community for patience, since some roads in the area will remain closed indefinitely.

“We are closely working with emergency response teams, environmental experts, and construction professionals to guarantee that the cleanup is done securely, efficiently, and with minimal impact on the surrounding community,” Holben said.

West Reading Mayor Samantha Kaag said the buildings were condemned as a precautionary measure to help the investigation.

West Reading officials promised updates as the situation unfolds.

On Tuesday, West Reading Borough council is expected to vote to extend Kaag’s disaster declaration put into effect after Friday’s explosion, which allows access to additional emergency resources.

Picking up the pieces

Over the weekend, seven people lost their lives, 10 others were injured, and the factory was severely damaged – including the manufacturing storage facility for their chocolate and a loading dock.

Days later, people are starting to make sense of what happened.

Jeff Hartley is a West Reading resident who often rides his bike past the factory, tucked between a tight group of row homes and the Schuylkill River. He says he’s struggling to come to terms with what happened.

“This rocked everybody’s world – literally and figuratively – around here. I imagine it’s going to be a long while before everything gets back to even semi-normal around here.”

Despite the shock, Hartley says he’s encouraged to see community members coming together to help with the cleanup.

He says many people are now out of work and facing an uncertain future.

“It’s just a devastating thing. You hope you never have to go through it again. It’s just a small town. You don’t know how to prepare for that sort of thing — and I don’t think anybody does.”

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