Woman who survived Pennsylvania factory explosion said falling into vat of liquid chocolate saved her life

A woman was pulled out alive from the wreckage. A Pennsylvania chocolate factory after an explosion The fire, which killed seven co-workers, is said to have engulfed the building and its wing, when the floor gave out from under it. If she hadn’t fallen into a vat of liquid chocolate, that might have been the end.

The dark liquid extinguished her flaming arm, but Patricia Borges broke her collar and both her heels. She would spend the next nine hours screaming for help and waiting for rescue as firefighters battled the blaze and helicopters hovered above the RM Palmer Co. factory.

“When I started burning, I thought it was the end for me,” Borges, 50, told The Associated Press in an exclusive interview from his hospital bed in West Reading, Pennsylvania, just minutes from the chocolate factory. told where she worked as a machine operator. Investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board interviewed Borges on Friday, according to his family.

Seven colleagues of Borges were killed and 10 injured in an explosion at RM Palmer on March 24. Federal, state and local investigations A cause has not been determined, but the federal Transportation Safety Agency is Its features As a natural gas explosion.

A survivor of the chocolate factory explosion
This photo provided by Patricia Borges’ family shows Patricia Borges before the explosion at the chocolate factory.

/ AP

Borges said he and others complained of the smell of gas at the factory 30 minutes before the explosion. He is angry Palmer didn’t leave immediately. She said the deaths of her co-workers — including her close friend, Judith Lopez Moran — could have been prevented.

Other activists have also said. Smells like natural gas.According to their relatives. Palmer, a 75-year-old family company with deep roots in the small town about 60 miles (96 km) northwest of Philadelphia, did not respond to questions about the workers’ claims.

Speaking in Spanish during a video conference, his eyes bruised and his burned right arm heavily bandaged, Borges recounted his terrifying brush with death.

The factory was getting ready for a product switch that day, so instead of running the candy wrapping machine as usual, she was helping clean it.

At 4:30 p.m., Borges told the AP, he smelled natural gas. It was strong and was making him nauseous. Borges and his co-workers approached their supervisor and asked “what if we were to be fired,” he recalled.

Borges said the supervisor noted that a superior would have to make that decision. So she returned to work.

Just before 5 p.m., the two-story brick building exploded.

Chocolate factory explosion
Emergency responders and heavy equipment are seen at the scene of a deadly explosion at a chocolate factory in West Reading, Pennsylvania on Saturday, March 25.

Michael Rubenkum/AP

Borges, who was on a ladder, was thrown to the ground. He heard a scream. There was fire everywhere and the flames engulfed him. “I asked God why he was giving me such a horrible death,” she said. “I asked him to save me, that I didn’t want to die in the fire.”

She started running. That’s when the floor gave way, and she could feel herself falling—into a long, horizontal tank of chocolate in the basement of the factory. At 4 feet, 10 inches tall, Borges landed on her feet in chest-high liquid.

Chocolate puts out the fire, but he’s sure he broke his feet in the fall.

The vet began dousing firefighters with water from hoses, eventually forcing Borges out as it reached neck level. She sat on the lip of the tank, then jumped into a pool of water on the basement floor. Briefly submerged, Borges said she swallowed a mouthful of water before surfacing. He grabbed some plastic tubes.

And then she waited.

“Help, help, please help!” She screamed for hours. No one came.

The pain intensified. The water was cold. The main supply pipe to the building’s fire suppression system had burst — and water was pouring into the basement. She looked for time but thought she might be there for days.

“There was only one thing I wanted to get out of there,” she said.

Finally, in the middle of the night, he saw a light and shouted again for help.

A survivor of the chocolate factory explosion
Interview by Patricia Borges on March 25, 2023 in West Reading, Pa. It happened at Reading Hospital.

/ AP

Search and rescue dogs alerted their handlers that there might be a survivor in the wreckage. Now, as the rescuers cautiously made their way down to the basement, they heard Borges crying.

Calling for silence, the rescuers followed his voice. They found him in a narrow space, in chest-deep water. She went to them and was placed in a litter.

“She was severely hypothermic and collapsed,” conscious but “absolutely confused,” said Ken Pagorek, who helped with the rescue effort as program manager for Pennsylvania Task Force 1, an emergency response team that Deployed at disaster sites across the country.

“I think if they hadn’t gotten to him, there was a very good chance there would have been multiple victims,” ​​said Pagorek, a captain with the Philadelphia Fire Department.

His rescue gave hope to first responders who pulled two bodies from the wreckage just hours after the explosion. Rescue workers spent two more days on the pile. They find five more bodies but no additional survivors.

Borges now faces surgery on both feet and a long recovery. Her family has started a GoFundMe campaign to help her pay the bills.

Borges, who came to the U.S. from the south-central Mexican state of Puebla 31 years ago, has worked at Palmer for four years. He said that he wants accountability.

“I wanted to speak out to prevent this in the future,” she said. “For my partner Judy, I want there to be justice.”

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