Final death toll in R.M. Palmer explosion reaches 7, crews turn focus on investigating cause

West Reading officials say the last two presumptive victims of the R.M. Palmer explosion were found deceased in the rubble Sunday late-afternoon, bringing the death toll to seven. The announcement was made at a press conference held Sunday night at Borough Hall.

Crews worked tirelessly throughout the day again on Sunday removing large pieces of metal and debris with an excavator, while continuing to search for the remaining victims.

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The explosion took place around 5pm Friday at R.M. Palmer Company building #2, 17 South 2nd Ave., damaging building #1, along with C&S Supply across the street, in addition to an apartment building and church next door.

Crews use demolition excavator Sunday night to remove debris from explosion site.

“We are still waiting for the Coroner to confirm the remaining individuals identities, but we do believe them to be the remaining presumptive missing individuals. We will keep you up to date on the progress. Our thoughts and prayers remain with the families” said West Reading Police Chief Wayne Holben.

“Throughout this tragedy, I’ve been impressed with the extraordinary efforts and dedication of all agencies that have come together to support our Borough. The firefighters, law enforcement agencies and search and rescue teams, I applaud your work and commitment to our community.”

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Holben continued, “I would especially like to take a moment to acknowledge the fierce dedication and outstanding work of the men and women of the West Reading Borough Police Department and the West Reading Borough Fire Department. Your commitment to your community is something they can be proud of. It has been a challenging past few days, however, it is an honor to work shoulder to shoulder with these individuals. And I would not have it any other way. Thank you.”

West Reading Mayor Samantha Kaag said several buildings surrounding the explosion site will be condemned as a precaution. “This doesn’t mean they are slated for demolition or uninhabitable, simply that there will be work happening around them as we proceed, and will need to be looked at further by structural engineers before being released.”

Street closure are expected to continue. Officials say they will alert the public when road closures will be lifted. However, 2nd Ave., from Franklin to Penn Ave. will remain closed indefinitely.

City of Reading Mayor Eddie Moran also attended the press conference to share news of a joint candlelight vigil, which he says will be held Friday, March 31, 2023, at 7:30pm on the Penn Street bridge.

“Many are affected by this incident, whether directly or indirectly. So we’re gonna invite the community to please continue to pray to continue to keep those that have been directly affected in their prayers and be a good neighbor to one another” said Moran.

Moving forward, Kaag says the site itself is now is being moved into the investigation period. “Hopefully we will have more answers on what caused this and how it happened and how it can be prevented in the future” she said.

The investigation into the cause of the building explosion is still ongoing. Chief Holben said the explosion portion of the investigation will be handled by Pennsylvania State Police.

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Berks Weekly
Berks Weekly
Berks Weekly is an independent and locally owned digital newspaper covering the City of Reading and Berks County. Subscribe today: berksweekly.com/subscribe
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