Natural gas caused West Reading chocolate factory explosion that killed 7 people: report

A devastated community was left to pick up the pieces after the lives of seven people were claimed by a massive blast that was sparked by natural gas, according to an NTSB report.

The R. M. Palmer Company Plant in West Reading, about 60 miles northwest of Philadelphia, suddenly went up in smoke and flames on March 24. The powerful explosion was captured on a FOX 29 camera as windows rattled and surrounding houses shook.

Building 2 was completely destroyed as Building 1 suffered significant structural damage, and was ultimately demolished by crews. 

One survivor was pulled from the rubble the following day, but the blast proved deadly as seven people were confirmed dead, and another 11 injured.

RELATED COVERAGE: West Reading explosion: 7 confirmed dead, all accounted for after blast rocks chocolate factory

With the recovery effort over, attention turned to identifying the cause. 

Over a month later, NTSB issued a preliminary report stating that the factory's explosion and fire were fueled by natural gas.

"Employees from Building 2 recalled that they were sanitizing equipment in the building when they detected an odor of natural gas," the report said. "The employees in Building 1 recalled the smell of rotten eggs around the same time."

About 35 office staff and 70 production employees were working in both buildings when they exploded, according to the report.

RELATED COVERAGE: West Reading chocolate factory ignored gas leak warning before deadly explosion, lawsuit says

A lawsuit filed last month claimed the Pennsylvania candy-maker ignored warnings of a gas leak at its chocolate factory.

The gas utility UGI previously said it had received no reports of a gas leak at the family-owned candy company.

"UGI reported no known work in the area and no pressure spike in gas usage before the explosion," the report stated.

The investigation is still ongoing as NTSB reviews collected evidence and attempts to identify the source of the explosion, as well as related industry practices and federal regulations.