Patricia Borges, a machine worker at the R.M. Palmer Co. factory in West Reading, was inside the burning building when the floor collapsed beneath her and she fell into a vat of chocolate
A woman survived a Pennsylvania factory explosion that killed seven of her coworkers last week — and said falling into a vat of liquid chocolate may have saved her life.
In an interview published Friday by The Associated Press, machine worker Patricia Borges detailed her terrifying story.
On March 24, an explosion at the R.M. Palmer Co. chocolate factory caused the facility in West Reading to go up in flames. Borges, who was inside the building, said her arm was already burning when the floor collapsed beneath her and she fell into the chocolate below. The liquid, she said, helped extinguish the flames on her body.
"When I began to burn, I thought it was the end for me," Borges, 50, told the AP from a West Reading hospital, where she's recovering from burns, broken heels and a broken collarbone.
"I asked God why he was giving me such a horrible death," she added. "I asked him to save me, that I didn't want to die in the fire."
At 4:30 p.m., roughly 30 minutes before the explosion, Borges said factory workers reported a strong gas odor, asking a supervisor "what was going to be done" if they were "going to be evacuated."
When the blast occurred, Borges said she was thrown from a ladder she'd been working on. She got up to run for safety when she fell through the floor, landing on her feet in the tank. Borges — who is 4 feet, 10 inches tall — found herself chest-high in chocolate.
She said she screamed for help for nine hours before she was discovered by firefighters who responded to the scene and later recovered the bodies of seven victims in the rubble.
Search teams heard her cries for help later that night, according to the AP report. Freezing cold, Borges was pulled to safety and transported to the hospital.
Philadelphia Fire Department captain Ken Pagurek spoke with AP about Borges's rescue.
"She was severely hypothermic and banged up," said Pagurek, describing Borges's conscious, but "absolutely confused" state.
"I think had they not gotten to her when they did, there was a very good chance the number of victims was going to be plus one," added Pagurek, who also serves as program manager of an emergency response team called Pennsylvania Task Force 1, which helps aid in disasters around the country.
Family members told the news outlet that investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board interviewed Borges on Friday. Though the agency has "characterized" the incident as a natural gas explosion, per the AP, an official cause has yet to be determined.
As for the factory itself, the 75-year-old family-run company has yet to comment on any of the workers' claims. In the meantime, Borges, who has worked at Palmer for four years, said she's seeking accountability.
"I wanted to speak so that this will be prevented in the future," she told the AP, sharing that one of her close friends was one of the coworkers killed. "For my colleague Judy, I want there to be justice."
PEOPLE reached out to R.M. Palmer Co. chocolate factory for comment, along with the Philadelphia Fire Department for updates.
Company owners said the loss of employees in the disaster "will be felt forever," ABC affiliate WPVI-TV reported.
"My family and I are deeply saddened and heartbroken by the devastating loss of several colleagues and friends as a result of last week's tragic incident at the West Reading facility," Richard Palmer Jr. and his family said in a statement shared with the station.
West Reading Mayor Samantha Kaag addressed the tragedy on March 24, stating that local authorities are trying to pinpoint the cause of the explosion and how they "can prevent it from happening in the future."
We are still working diligently behind the scenes - please utilize us for resources if you were affected - I truly mean it when I say I am so proud of the community, the county, and I am so honored to be the Mayor of West Reading. pic.twitter.com/kWUCNqUh0a
— Mayor Samantha Kaag (@SamanthaKaag) March 27, 2023
"Tonight, we were able to announce that all seven presumptive missing have been found," Kaag shared. "Please understand that this is still a devastating loss but we are truly grateful to bring closure to the families involved in the upcoming days."
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