Patricia Borges, 50, Borges recalled smelling gas at the R.M. Palmer factory moments before the flames ignited around the building, and her arm, before eventually the floor below her collapsed – sending her straight into a vat on March 24.
The dark liquid extinguished her blazing arm, and the fall led Borges to break her collarbone and both of her heels.
She would spend the next nine hours screaming for help and waiting for rescue as firefighters battled the inferno and choppers thumped overhead at the factory.
Patricia Borges, 50, survived the horrific R.M. Palmer factory blast on March 24 that killed seven of her co-workers moments after they complained about smelling gasoline
Borges worked at the chocolate factory as a candy wrapping machine operator. But on the day of the blast she was helping clean in preparation for a product switch.
The machine worker said she and others had complained about a gas odor about 30 minutes before the two-story brick factory blew up before 5pm.
The strong scent nauseated her and Borges and other employees approached their supervisor, asking ‘what was going to be done, if we were going to be evacuated,’ she recalled.
Borges said the supervisor noted someone higher up would have to make that decision. So she got back to work.
She is angry Palmer didn’t immediately evacuate and recalled being thrown to the ground.
Speaking in Spanish over videoconference, her eyes bruised and her burned right arm heavily bandaged, Borges recounted her terrifying brush with death.
‘When I began to burn, I thought it was the end for me,’ Borges, told The Associated Press from her hospital bed in West Reading, Pennsylvania.
Borges heard screaming and saw fire everywhere.
‘I asked God why he was giving me such a horrible death,’ she said. ‘I asked him to save me, that I didn’t want to die in the fire.’
Borges worked at the chocolate factory as a candy wrapping machine operator. But on the day of the blast she was helping clean in preparation for a product switch. Pictured: Borges before the explosion
Borges was stuck in the vat for nine hours screaming for help and waiting for rescuers to help
Bodies were found under debris at the RM Palmer plant in the borough of West Reading with rescue crews are using heat imaging equipment and dogs
Borges said that if wasn’t for the chocolate vat (above) she likely wouldn’t have survived
Rubble was cleared at the site of the deadly explosion at the chocolate factory back in March
She began to run. That’s when the floor gave way, and she could feel herself falling – into a long, horizontal tank of chocolate in the factory’s basement.
At 4 feet, 10 inches tall, Borges landed on her feet in chest-high liquid.
The chocolate extinguished the flames, but she believes her fall is what broke her feet.
The vat began filling with water from firefighters’ hoses, eventually forcing Borges to climb out as it reached neck level.
She sat on the lip of the tank, then jumped into a pool of water that had formed on the basement floor. Briefly submerged, Borges said she swallowed a mouthful of water before surfacing.
Borges grabbed onto some plastic tubing. And then she waited.
‘Help, help, please help!’ she yelled, over and over, for hours. No one came.
The pain grew more intense. The water was frigid. The main supply pipe for the building’s fire suppression system had ruptured – and water was pouring into the basement. She lost track of time but thought she might be there for days.
‘The only thing I wanted was to get out of there,’ she said.
Finally, in the middle of the night, she saw a light and screamed anew for help.
Search-and-rescue dogs had alerted their handlers that a survivor might be in the rubble. As rescuers carefully worked their way down to the basement, they heard Borges’s cries.
Calling for quiet, 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 litter.
Borges lost her close friend the day of the blast, Judith Lopez-Moran, 55 (above)
Judith Lopez-Moran, 55, and Susan Halvonik, 63, also died in the horrific blast
Several workers complained about the smell of gasoline before the factory exploded. Pictured: Amy Sandoe, 49, and Michael Breedy, 62, who also died
Borges believes that her co-workers would still be alive if they were all properly evacuated. Pictured: Domingo Cruz, 60, and Xiorky Nunez, 30, who also died
‘She was severely hypothermic and banged up,’ conscious but ‘absolutely confused,’ said Ken Pagurek, who helped lead rescue efforts as program manager of Pennsylvania Task Force 1, an emergency response team that deploys to disaster sites around the country.
‘I think had they not gotten to her when they did, there was a very good chance the number of victims was going to be plus one,’ said Pagurek, also a captain in the Philadelphia Fire Department.
Her rescue gave hope to first responders who already had pulled two bodies from the rubble in the hours after the blast. Rescuers spent two more days at the pile. They found five more bodies but no additional survivors.
Authorities identified those killed as Xiorky D. Nunez, 30, Diana M. Cedeno, 44, Amy S. Sandoe, 49, Judith Lopez-Moran, 55, Domingo Cruz, 60, Michael D. Breedy, 62, and Susan H. Halvonik, 63.
Borges now faces surgery on both feet and a long recovery. Her family has launched a GoFundMe campaign to help her pay the bills.
Borges, who came to the United States 31 years ago from Puebla state in south-central Mexico, has worked at Palmer for four years. She said she’s seeking accountability.
The factory worker lost her close friend the day of the blast, Judith Lopez-Moran. She said the deaths of her co-workers could’ve been prevented.
Federal, state and local investigations are underway. A cause has not been determined, but the federal transportation safety agency has characterized it as a natural gas explosion.