A woman was pulled alive from under the rubble The Pennsylvania Chocolate Factory after the explosion that killed seven colleagues, says flames engulfed the building and her arm when the floor beneath her gave way. That might have been the end of it if she hadn’t fallen into a vat of liquid chocolate.

The dark liquid extinguished her burning arm, but Patricia Borges broke her collarbone and both heels. She 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 the end of me,” Borges, 50, told The Associated Press in an exclusive interview from her hospital bed in West Reading, Pennsylvania, just minutes from the chocolate factory where she worked as a mechanic. Borges was interviewed Friday by investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board, her family said.

An explosion at RM Palmer on March 24 killed seven Borges employees and injured 10 others. Federal, state and local investigations are conducted. The cause has not been determined, but the Federal Transportation Safety Agency has determined characterized him like a natural gas explosion.

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

/ AP

Borges said she and others complained about the smell of gas about 30 minutes before the plant exploded. She is angry that Palmer did not evacuate immediately. She said the deaths of her colleagues – including her close friend Judith Lopez-Moran – could have been prevented.

Other workers also said that they smelled natural gas, according to their relatives. Palmer, a 75-year-old family 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 during a video conference, her eyes bruised and her burned right hand heavily bandaged, Borges spoke of her terrifying encounter with death.

That day, the factory was preparing to switch to a new product, so instead of running the candy packaging machine as usual, she helped clean up.

At 4:30 p.m., Borges told the AP that she smelled natural gas. It was strong and nauseating. Borges and her colleagues approached their supervisor, asking “what they were going to do if we were evacuated,” she recalls.

Borges said the supervisor indicated that such a decision should be made by someone higher up. So she went back to work.

Not far from 5 p.m., a two-story brick building exploded.

The explosion at the chocolate factory
Emergency services 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 / OP

Borges, who was on the stairs, was thrown to the ground. She heard a scream. Fire was burning everywhere, and the flames quickly engulfed her. “I asked God why he was giving me such a horrible death,” she said. “I begged him to save me because I didn’t want to die in the fire.”

She started running. That’s when the floor gave way and she felt 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-deep liquid.

The chocolate put out the flames, but she believes her legs were broken by her fall.

Chan began filling himself with water from fire hoses, eventually forcing Borges out when it reached neck level. She sat on the edge of the tank and then jumped into the pool of water that had formed on the basement floor. After briefly submerging in the water, Borges said she swallowed a mouthful of water before resurfacing. She grabbed some kind of plastic tube.

And then she waited.

“Help, help, please help!” – she shouted again and again, for hours. No one came.

The pain increased. The water was cold. There was a break in the main pipeline of the building’s fire extinguishing system – water poured into the basement. She lost track of time, but thought she might be there for a few days.

“All I wanted was to get out of there,” she said.

Finally, in the middle of the night, she saw the light and screamed for help again.

Survivor of the explosion at the chocolate factory
Patricia Borges is interviewed at Reading Hospital in West Reading, Pennsylvania on March 25, 2023.

/ AP

Search and rescue dogs alerted their guardians that there might be a survivor among the debris. Now, as the rescuers carefully made their way into the basement, they heard Borges’s screams.

Calling for silence, the rescuers followed her voice. They found her in a cramped place, in water up to her chest. She made her way to them and was placed in the litter.

“She was very hypothermic and very concussed,” conscious but “absolutely confused,” said Ken Pagurek, who helped lead the rescue effort as program manager for Pennsylvania’s Task Force 1, an emergency response team that deploys to disaster areas. throughout the country.

“I think if they hadn’t gotten to her, then there was a good chance the death toll would have been plus one,” said Pagurek, also a captain with the Philadelphia Fire Department.

Her rescue gave hope to rescuers who had already pulled two bodies from the rubble hours after the explosion. The rescuers spent two more days on the hill. They found five more bodies, but there were no survivors.

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

Borges, who came to the U.S. 31 years ago from the south-central Mexican state of Puebla, has worked at Palmer for four years. She said she wants to be held accountable.

“I wanted to speak out so that this does not happen in the future,” she said. “For my colleague Judy, I want justice.”


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