WEST READING, Pa. (AP) – The seven bodies of victims of a massive explosion at a chocolate factory in a small town in eastern Pennsylvania have been recovered, officials said.
West Reading Mayor Samantha Kaag said in a statement late on Sunday that the names of any of the dead would not be released until authorities were sure all families had been notified.
“Please understand that this is a devastating loss, but we are truly grateful to be able to wrap up the families involved in the coming days,” Kaag said.
Police Chief Wayne Holben told reporters shortly after 9 pm that rescue workers found the bodies in the early afternoon and are believed to be the two missing individuals who were reported missing earlier in the evening. Their identities will be confirmed by the Berks County coroner’s office, he said.
One of the victims was found around 6:50 pm and the other around 8:20 pm, Holben added. This brings the total death toll to seven.
Kaag previously confirmed to the Associated Press that the fifth body was found Sunday morning by rescue workers, and the Berks County coroner confirmed that he was dead. The coroner was unable to confirm the identity of that person, Kaag added.
Holben had already confirmed the discovery of a fourth body under the rubble of the RM Palmer Co factory. in West Reading, about 60 miles (100 kilometers) northwest of Philadelphia.
Holben asked the population to continue to pray and promised that rescuers and agents “will not rest until we determine the whereabouts of each person affected by this tragedy”, caused by the explosion on Friday at 5 pm.
Rescuers have been using thermal imaging equipment and dogs to try to find potential survivors of the explosion that destroyed one building and damaged another. Crews were removing the wreckage with heavy machinery, Holben said.
Fire Chief Chad Meyer said late Saturday that the chance of finding survivors was “rapidly diminishing” due to the force of the blast and the time elapsed.
Kaag said authorities “hopefully get some answers and get some bailouts to comfort people and give them comfort.”
Authorities said they did not know the status of a woman pulled alive from the rubble on Saturday morning. Kaag added that she was apparently on the second floor and was found under “hopeful circumstances”. A dog found her and rescuers pulled her out.
Authorities said they had no updates on the status of those hospitalized. Reading hospital said it had taken in 10 injured people and transferred two to other facilities. Two others were in good and fair condition, respectively, and the others were discharged.
State and local fire departments are still inspecting the site to try to determine the cause of the explosion.