West Reading chocolate factory explosion: recovery fund tops $1 million

Sep. 3—A fund set up to help victims of an explosion that leveled a West Reading chocolate factory in March has surpassed $1 million.

The West Reading Disaster Recovery Fund was created after an R.M. Palmer Co. plant on South Second Avenue exploded on March 24. The blast killed seven workers. The fund is a joint effort of the Berks County Community Foundation and the United Way of Berks County.

Tammy White, United Way president, last week issued a statement announcing the fund had surpassed the million-dollar mark.

"Berks County is a special community in many ways; this was especially evident in the wake of the tragedy that struck R.M. Palmer and the West Reading area earlier this year," White wrote.

White reported that more than 1,900 individuals, families and organizations across the county and country made donations to the fund.

Of that money, $990,000 has already been distributed to the families of those who died in the blast and families displaced from their homes. A small portion will be used by West Reading to create a tribute honoring the memory of those impacted and the heroic efforts of first responders.

"As we reached out to the families of the deceased and those who were displaced from their homes, they expressed their sincere gratitude for the kindheartedness of strangers as they coped with the unthinkable," White wrote.

The fund was an instant hit, collecting $7,000 before it was even officially announced. Donations were collected through May 31.

The Palmer explosion remains under investigation in an effort being led by the National Transportation Safety Board. In its most recent update, the board reported that a leak in a fitting on an out-of-use natural gas service line appears to be the cause of the blast.

The explosion not only leveled the Palmer plant but damaged several other buildings in the area. Borough officials say they have not yet received any plans from the owners of those buildings for repair work, but they expect to get them soon.

The owners will work with the borough's code department on finalizing the work that needs to be done to make the buildings safe, borough officials said.

Borough Council President Ryan Lineaweaver said cleanup work is continuing at the blast site and equipment continues to be moved out of a damaged Palmer building that sits just south of the plant that exploded.