The survivor of the chocolate factory explosion fell into the barrel

A woman pulled from the ruins of a Pennsylvania chocolate factory after an explosion that killed seven co-workers says flames engulfed the building and her arm, as the floor gave way to her. that. That could be the end, if she doesn’t fall into the bucket of liquid chocolate.

The dark liquid extinguished her flaming arms, but Patricia Borges was wounded, breaking her collarbone and both heels. She’ll spend the next nine hours screaming for help and waiting for rescue as firefighters battle the hell out and helicopters crash into the RM Palmer Co.

“When I started to get burned, 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, Penn., just miles from home. the chocolate machine where grandma worked for a few minutes. a machine operator. Her family said investigators from the US National Transportation Safety Board interviewed Borges on Friday.

The March 24 explosion at RM Palmer killed seven of Borges’ colleagues and wounded 10. Federal, state and local investigations are underway. The cause has not been determined, but the federal transportation safety agency has described it as a natural gas explosion.

Borges said she and others complained about the smell of gas about 30 minutes before the plant blew up. She was angry Palmer didn’t evacuate immediately. She says the deaths of her colleagues – including her close friend, Judith Lopez-Moran – could have been prevented.

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

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

The factory was about to change products that day, so instead of running the candy packing machine as usual, she was helping clean up.

At 4:30 p.m., Borges told the AP, she smelled natural gas. It was strong and made her nauseous. Borges and her colleague approached their supervisor, asking “what would be done, if we were going to be evacuated,” she recalls.

Borges said the supervisor noted that someone at a higher level would have to make that decision. So she went back to work.

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

Borges, who was on the ladder, was thrown to the ground. She heard screaming. There was fire everywhere, and the flames quickly enveloped her. “I asked God why give me such a terrible 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 collapsed, and she could feel herself falling — into a long, horizontal box of chocolates in the basement of the factory. At 4 feet 10 inches tall, Borges lands on his feet in chest-high liquid.

Chocolate put out the fire, but she believes her fall caused her leg to break.

The barrel began to fill with water from the fireman’s hose, eventually forcing Borges to climb out when it was up to his neck. She sat on the edge of the tank, then jumped into a puddle that formed in the basement. Briefly submerged, Borges said she swallowed a mouthful of water before resurfacing. She grabbed some plastic tubes.

And then she waited.

“Help, help, help!” she screamed, over and over, for hours. No one came.

The pain became more and more intense. Cold water. The main supply pipe to the building’s fire suppression system broke — and water flooded into the basement. She doesn’t remember the time but thinks she could be there for days.

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

Finally, in the middle of the night, she sees a light and screams again for help.

Search and rescue dogs alerted their handlers that a survivor might be in the rubble. Now, as rescuers carefully made their way down to the basement, they heard Borges cry.

Calling for silence, the rescuers followed the sound of her voice. They found her in a tight space, in chest-deep water. She made her way to them and was placed in a nest.

Ken Pagurek, who helped lead the rescue efforts as the program director of Pennsylvania Task Force 1, an emergency response team deployed to disaster sites around the country, said : “She had severe hypothermia and was beaten hard.

“I think if they didn’t get to her there’s a good chance the number of victims would have been plus one,” said Pagurek, who is also the captain of the Philadelphia Fire Department.

Her rescue offered hope to first responders, who pulled two bodies from the rubble in the hours after the explosion. Rescuers spent another two days at the dump. They found 5 more bodies but no more survivors.

Borges now faces surgery on both legs and a long recovery time. Her family launched a GoFundMe campaign to help her 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. She said she was looking for accountability.

“I want to speak up so this can be prevented in the future,” she said. “For my colleague Judy, I want justice.”


Rubinkam reports from northeastern Pennsylvania and Coronado reports from Austin, Texas.

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