Balcony collapse kills six Irish students in California – Reuters


BERKELEY, Calif. An apartment balcony crowded with birthday revelers collapsed early on Tuesday near the University of California at Berkeley, killing six college students from Ireland and seriously injuring several others, authorities said.

The victims, most if not all of whom were working in the San Francisco Bay area on temporary visas for summer vacation, had been celebrating a friend’s 21st birthday in the fourth floor apartment when the tragedy occurred, according to Irish officials in Dublin.

There was no immediate indication from authorities that the collapse was anything but an accident. Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny, citing information from police in Berkeley, said 13 people had been on the balcony when it fell.

“My heart breaks for the parents who lost children this morning,” Kenny said in a statement.

Pictures from the scene showed that the fourth-floor balcony gave way and pancaked onto the third-story balcony just beneath it at the Library Gardens apartment complex, about two blocks from the UC Berkeley campus across the bay from San Francisco.

The coroner bureau of the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office said six fatalities had been confirmed. Four people were declared dead at the scene and two others died at a hospital, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

Berkeley Police spokeswoman Jennifer Coats said as many as eight people were badly hurt in the collapse. Injuries sustained by the surviving victims, she said, were “very serious and potentially life-threatening.”

Kenny and Irish Foreign Minister Charlie Flanagan said all the victims were “young Irish citizens” visiting the United States on so-called J1 visas, and that the six killed were students.

“This was an appalling tragedy,” Flanagan told Irish national broadcaster RTE. “A party, a 21st birthday party, turning into tragedy in a moment.”

Thousands of students from Irish universities travel to the United States on temporary working visas every summer before returning to Ireland to complete their studies.

Coats said callers had first reported the collapse at the four-story apartment block in the downtown area of the college town at around 12:45 a.m.

Neighbor Jason Biswas, 16, a high school student who lives in the building, said the collapse woke up his parents.

“They thought it was an earthquake until we all looked out the window and realized what happened,” he told Reuters.

Biswas said he saw “a bunch of bodies on the ground, most of them not responding.”

Bystanders later left flowers outside the building in memory of those killed.

Following the collapse, authorities declared the apartment’s remaining balconies off-limits as a precaution.

Police and fire department personnel and others were working to determine what caused the collapse.

Gene St. Onge, an engineer from nearby Oakland, reviewed a picture of the detached balcony at the request of the San Francisco Chronicle and said inadequate waterproofing where the deck meets the building appeared to be a factor.

“This appears to be a classic case,” he said. “If the waterproofing is substandard, rainwater can enter the building, causing dry rot, which can destroy the wood members within a short time … only a few years from construction.”

(Additional reporting by Curtis Skinner and Jim Christie in San Francisco, Padraic Halpin in Dublin and Elijah Nouvelage in Berkeley; Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Doina Chiacu)

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