A chocolate factory worker woman who was rescued from the ruins of a Pennsylvania chocolate factory after an explosion killed seven coworkers claims flames consumed the building and her arm when the floor gave way beneath her.
That would have been the end if she hadn’t tumbled into a vat of liquid chocolate.
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The dark liquid extinguished Patricia Borges’ blazing arm, but she broke her clavicle and both heels.
She’d spend the next nine hours screaming for help and waiting for rescue as firemen battled the blaze and choppers swooped down on the R.M. Palmer Co. factory.
“I thought it was the end for me when I started to burn,” Borges, 50, told The Associated Press from her hospital bed in West Reading, Pennsylvania, just minutes from the chocolate factory where she worked as a machine operator. According to her relatives, the National Transportation Safety Board interviewed Borges on Friday.
Chocolate Factory Worker Video
Seven of Borges’ coworkers were killed, and ten were wounded in the March 24 blast at R.M. Palmer. Federal, state, and municipal authorities are conducting investigations. Although no reason has been identified, the federal transportation safety agency has classified the incident as a natural gas explosion.
Borges stated that she and others had grumbled about a gas odor approximately 30 minutes before the factory exploded. She is enraged. Palmer did not flee right away. She claimed that the deaths of her coworkers, including her close companion Judith Lopez-Moran, could have been avoided.
According to their relatives, other employees have also reported smelling natural gas. Palmer, a 75-year-old family-run business with deep roots in the small town 60 miles (96 kilometers) northwest of Philadelphia, has yet to react to inquiries about the chocolate factory worker’s claims.
Borges recalled her frightening brush with death over videoconference, her eyes bruised, and she burned her right arm heavily.
Because the factory was preparing for a product transition that day, she was cleaning instead of operating a candy-wrapping machine.
Borges told the Associated Press that she smelt natural gas at 4:30 p.m. It was powerful and made her sick. Borges and her coworkers approached their supervisor and inquired about “what was going to be done if we were going to be evacuated,” she remembered.
Borges stated that the supervisor mentioned that the choice would have to be made by someone higher up. So she returned to work.
The two-story brick structure exploded shortly before 5 p.m.
Borges was hurled to the ground after being on a ladder. She overheard screams. There was fire all around her, and the flames rapidly engulfed her. “I asked God why he gave me such a horrible death,” she explained. “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 fell — into a long, horizontal tank of chocolate in the factory’s cellar. Borges, who stands 4 feet 10 inches tall, fell on her feet in chest-high water.
The chocolate extinguished the flames, but she thinks her fall broke her feet.
Borges was forced to climb out of the vat as it started to fill with water from the firefighters’ hoses. She perched on the tank’s lip before diving into a pool of water that had formed on the basement floor. Borges said she inhaled a mouthful of water before surfacing after briefly submerging. She clung to some plastic pipe.
She then sat and waited.
“Help, help, please help!” she screamed for hours on end. Nobody showed up.
The agony intensified. The ocean was icy cold. Water poured into the basement from a ruptured primary supply pipe for the building’s fire suppression system. She had lost track of time and assumed she had been there for days.
“All I wanted was to get out of there,” she explained.
Finally, in the middle of the night, she noticed a light and screamed for assistance again.
Search-and-rescue dogs had alerted their handlers to the possibility of a survivor in the debris. Borges’ cries could now be heard as rescuers cautiously made their way down to the basement.
The searchers followed the sound of her voice, calling for silence. They discovered her in a confined area, in chest-deep water. She followed them and was put in a litter.
“She was severely hypothermic and bruised,” conscious but “absolutely confused,” said Ken Pagurek, program manager of Pennsylvania Task Force 1, an emergency response squad that deploys to disaster sites across the nation.
“I think if they hadn’t gotten to her when they did, the number of victims would have been plus one,” said Pagurek, a captain with the Philadelphia Fire Department.
Chocolate factory worker rescue offered first responders hope after they had already pulled two bodies from the debris in the hours following the blast. Rescuers stayed at the mound for two more days. They discovered five more corpses but no survivors.
Borges now risk foot surgery and a lengthy recovery. Her family has started a GoFundMe campaign to assist her with her expenses.
Borges moved to the United States from Puebla state in south-central Mexico 31 years ago and has been with Palmer for four years.
She stated that she was looking for answers.
“I wanted to speak up so that this doesn’t happen again,” she explained. “I want justice to be served for my colleague Judy.”
Rubinkam contributed reporting from northern Pennsylvania and Coronado from Austin, Texas.