On March 24, 2023, a devastating explosion rocked the R.M. Palmer chocolate factory in West Reading, Pennsylvania, killing seven people and injuring 10 others. The blast was so powerful that it shattered windows and shook buildings in the surrounding area. The cause of the explosion is still under investigation, but federal officials have said that natural gas was involved.
Among the survivors of the tragedy was Patricia Borges, a 50-year-old machine operator who had worked at the factory for six years. Borges had a miraculous escape from death after she fell into a vat of liquid chocolate in the basement of the factory.
Borges told the Associated Press that she and other workers had smelled gas about 30 minutes before the explosion, but the company did not evacuate them. She said she was on a ladder when the blast threw her to the ground. She ran for her life, but her arm caught fire and the floor collapsed beneath her. She plunged into a horizontal tank filled with dark chocolate.
The chocolate put out the flames on her arm, but she broke her collarbone and both of her heels in the fall. She was trapped in the tank for nine hours, screaming for help and fearing that she would drown as water from firefighters’ hoses filled up the vat.
She said she prayed to God and thought of her family during her ordeal. She also thought of her friend and co-worker Judith Lopez-Moran, who died in the explosion along with six other people.
Borges was finally rescued by firefighters who heard her cries and cut through the metal tank. She was taken to a hospital where she underwent surgery and received treatment for burns and fractures. She said she was grateful to be alive, but angry at the company for not evacuating them when they smelled gas.
Borges is one of several workers who have claimed that they smelled gas before the explosion, according to their relatives and lawyers. The National Transportation Safety Board is interviewing Borges and other witnesses as part of their investigation into the cause of the blast.
The R.M. Palmer company, a family-run business that has been making chocolate products since 1948, has not responded to these allegations. The company has expressed its condolences to the victims’ families and said it is cooperating with authorities.
The explosion has shocked and saddened the West Reading community, where many people knew someone who worked at or lived near the factory. On Friday night, a vigil was held at the West Reading Fire Department to honor and remember those who lost their lives in the blast.