'It's pretty leveled': Pennsylvania chocolate plant explosion kills at least 5 and 6 still missing

A deadly explosion at a Western Pennsylvania chocolate factory Friday night killed five people, injured eight others and left nearby buildings and homes damaged and destroyed.

As of Saturday morning, officials said, at least a half-dozen people remained missing.

West Reading Borough Police Department Chief of Police Wayne Holben said the explosion took place just before 5 p.m. at the R.M. Palmer Co. plant in West Reading.

As of Saturday morning, officials continued to search for six missing people and investigate what caused the explosion at the plant about 60 miles northwest of Philadelphia.

The identities of the dead, injured and missing were not immediately known.

The 4:57 p.m. blast sent a plume of black smoke into the air and resulted in the destruction of a building at the facility and damage to a neighboring building.

Holben said the blast also destroyed one building and damaged a neighboring building.

Photos from the scene early Saturday showed smoke rising from the plant as firefighters remained on scene as crews searched for survivors.

On Saturday morning, Holden was asking people to avoid the area.

“It’s pretty leveled,” Mayor Samantha Kaag said of the explosion site. “The building in the front, with the church and the apartments, the explosion was so big that it moved that building four feet forward."

Eight taken to hospitals

Tower Health spokeswoman Jessica Bezler said officials transported eight people to Reading Hospital Friday night.

Two people were admitted in fair condition and five were being treated and would be released, she told the Associated Press in an email. One patient was transferred to another facility, but Bezler provided no further details.

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Kaag said people were asked to move back about a block in each direction from the site of the explosion but no evacuations were ordered.

Displaced residents

West Reading Borough manager Dean Murray said some residents were displaced from the damaged apartment building.

Kagg said borough officials were not in immediate contact with officials from R.M. Palmer, which Murray described as “a staple of the borough.”

According to the company's website, the plant has been making “chocolate novelties” since 1948 and now has 850 employees at its West Reading headquarters.

Contributing: Associated Press

Natalie Neysa Alund covers breaking and trending news for USA TODAY. Reach her at nalund@usatoday.com and follow her on Twitter @nataliealund.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Pennsylvania chocolate factory explosion kills at least 5, 6 missing