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A Pennsylvania factory explosion survivor says falling into a vat of chocolate saved his life

A woman alive from the rubble After an explosion at a Pennsylvania chocolate factory The seven co-workers who were killed said flames engulfed the building and his arm, while the floor went under him. It might have ended, had he not fallen into a vat of liquid chocolate.

The dark liquid extinguished her burning arm, but Patricia Borges was injured with a broken collarbone and both of her heels. He would spend the next nine hours screaming for help and waiting for rescue as firefighters battled the inferno and helicopters pounded the RM Palmer Co. factory.

“When I started burning, I thought it was over 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 where he worked. Machine operator. Borges was interviewed Friday by National Transportation Safety Board investigators, according to his family.

An explosion at RM Palmer on March 24 killed seven of Borges’ colleagues and injured 10 others. Federal, state and local investigations are ongoing. A cause has not been determined, but the Federal Transportation Safety Agency has identified it as a natural gas explosion.

Chocolate Factory Explosion Survivor

This photo provided by the family of Patricia Borges shows Patricia Borges before the chocolate factory explosion.

/ AP

Borges said he and others complained about the smell of gas about 30 minutes before the factory exploded. He did not evacuate the angry Palmer immediately. He said the deaths of his colleagues – including his close friend Judith Lopez-Moran – could have been prevented.

Other workers also said they smelled natural gas, according to their relatives. Palmer, a 75-year-old, family-run company with deep roots in the small town 60 miles (96 kilometers) northwest of Philadelphia, did not respond to questions about the workers’ demands.

Speaking in Spanish by video conference, his eye 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 a candy-wrapping machine like usual, he was helping clean up.

At 4:30 p.m., Borges told the AP, he smelled natural gas. It was strong and made her nauseous. Borges and his colleagues went to their supervisor and asked “what to do, if we were to be evacuated,” he recalled.

Borges said the supervisor pointed out that someone higher up had to make that decision. So he went back to work.

The two-story brick building exploded just before 5 p.m.

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 Rubinkam/AP

Borges, who was on a ladder, was thrown to the ground. He heard screams. There was fire everywhere, and the fire quickly consumed him. “I asked God why he was giving me such a horrible death,” he said. “I told him to save me, I don’t want to die in the fire.”

He started running. Just then the floor gave way, and he could feel himself – falling into a long, horizontal tank of chocolate in the basement of the factory. At 4 feet, 10 inches tall, Borges landed on his feet in chest-high liquid.

Chocolate puts out the fire, but he believes his fall broke his leg.

The vat began to fill with water from firefighters’ hoses, forcing Borges to rise as it eventually reached neck level. He sat on the lip of the tank, then jumped into the pool of water that had formed on the basement floor. Briefly submerged, Borges said he swallowed a mouthful of water before surfacing. He grabbed onto some plastic tubing.

And then she waited.

“Help, help, please help!” He screamed for hours. no one came

The pain became more intense. The water was frozen. The main supply pipe to the building’s fire suppression system had burst – and water was pouring into the basement. He lost track of time but thought he might be there for a few days.

“The only thing I wanted was to get out of there,” he said.

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

Chocolate Factory Explosion Survivor

Patricia Borges interviewed at Reading Hospital in West Reading, Pa., on March 25, 2023.

/ AP

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

The rescuers followed the sound of his voice urging calm. They found him in a tight spot, chest deep in water. He made his way to them and was placed in a litter.

“He was severely hypothermic and traumatized,” conscious but “totally confused,” said Ken Pagurek, who led the rescue effort as program manager for Pennsylvania Task Force 1, an emergency response team that deploys to disaster sites across the country.

“I think if they hadn’t gotten to him, there was a very good chance the number of victims would have been plus one,” said Pagurek, a captain with the Philadelphia Fire Department.

His rescue gave hope to first responders who had already pulled two bodies from the rubble hours after the explosion. Rescuers spent two more days in the pile. They found five more bodies, but no one else survived.

Borges now faces surgery on both legs and a long recovery. His family has launched a GoFundMe campaign to help him pay the bills.

Borges, who came to the United States 31 years ago from the state of Puebla in south-central Mexico, has worked at Palmer for four years. He said, he wants accountability.

“I wanted to speak out so it could be prevented in the future,” he said. “For my colleague Judy, I want there to be justice.”

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