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Investigators examine pipeline in chocolate factory blast

Mar 29, 2023, 11:54 AM

Emergency responders and heavy equipment are seen at the site of a deadly explosion at a chocolate ...

Emergency responders and heavy equipment are seen at the site of a deadly explosion at a chocolate factory in West Reading, Pennsylvania, Saturday, March 25. (AP Photo/Michael Rubinkam)
Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS

(AP Photo/Michael Rubinkam)

WEST READING, Pa. (AP) — Federal safety investigators are examining a natural gas pipeline for fractures and other damage as they gather evidence on the cause of last week’s deadly explosion at a Pennsylvania chocolate factory, a spokesperson said Wednesday.

The National Transportation Safety Board opened a probe into Friday’s blast at R.M. Palmer Co. that killed seven people, wounded several others and leveled the building in West Reading, a small town about 50 miles (80 kilometers) northwest of Philadelphia. The agency has called it a natural gas explosion and fire.

“NTSB is continuing to gather evidence about how the building was supplied with natural gas and point of ignition, interview witnesses, examine the pipeline for fractures, any damage to pipeline, a chronology of events leading up to the explosion, among other issues that may come up as the investigation continues,” agency spokesperson Keith Holloway said by email.

A preliminary report on the explosion could be available in about three weeks, whereas the final report could take up to two years, he said. Pennsylvania State Police are also investigating the cause.

Some workers had told relatives they smelled natural gas before the blast, although the gas utility, UGI, said it had received no reports of a gas leak. UGI said it is cooperating with the probe.

The family that owns the candy company said in a statement Wednesday that the loss of their employees “will be felt forever.”

“My family and I are deeply saddened and heartbroken by the devastating loss of several colleagues and friends as a result of last week’s tragic incident at the West Reading facility,” said the statement from Richard Palmer Jr. and his family.

The Berks County coroner’s office, which previously released the names of two of the seven victims, said it planned to release the rest of the victims’ names on Wednesday afternoon.

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Investigators examine pipeline in chocolate factory blast