Updated 08.30, 4 February
THE BUILDING IN which two Irish students were killed in Belgium complied with all fire safety regulations, contrary to previous reports.
The two victims were 22-year-old Dace Zarina from Longford and 19-year-old Sara Gibadlo from Oranmore, Galway. Dace and Sara were both Irish nationals.
The two women were both second year students studying a Bachelor of Business degree in Hotel and Catering Management in GMIT’s main Galway campus. They had just commenced a 30-week Erasmus work placement in the Leuven Institute for Ireland in Europe in January.
Emergency services attended the scene of the fire at the Institute for Ireland in Leuven early this morning.
Eight students were evacuated from building and taken to hospital for a medical examination. They are not believed to be seriously injured.
The two girls were reported missing following the evacuation and their bodies were later discovered.
Leuven mayor Louis Tobback previously said that the house had not been declared as a student residence and its owner was not paying tax, meaning it had not been given these safety checks by firefighters.
However, the college later released a statement to say that the building had been thoroughly inspected two years previously and complied with all fire safety regulations.
Dace’s family originally came from Latvia and Sara’s from Poland. They were the only two GMIT students on placement in the Belgian college.
“Everyone at GMIT is in shock over the news,” said a spokesperson for the college, adding that students and staff are trying to come to terms with the tragic news this morning.
Members of GMIT management are currently with both families, and are liaising with the Belgian Embassy and authorities in Leuven.
“Many of their classmates are on placement in different European locations and are being informed of the tragic news by the college authorities in the past hour. Some 400 GMIT students go on work placements every academic year,” the college said in a statement.
The Department of Foreign Affairs stated they are providing consular assistance to the families of the students.
Head of the GMIT College of Tourism and Arts Cait Noone, said:
GMIT is devastated. Dace and Sara were very talented young students. They were both bright, creative young girls. It’s a huge loss.
The Institute confirmed to TheJournal.ie that the fire involved a private residence where Irish students were staying.
The fire was not in the Leuven Institute building itself, and was first reported to emergency services at 5am this morning.
The Department of Foreign Affairs in Dublin confirmed that the Irish ambassador to Belgium was also at the scene.
GMIT says it has a long established working relationship with the Leuven Institute for Ireland in Europe.
“Our students have been going on placement to the Belgian college for at least six years,” they said.
The University of Leuven has moved to clarify that although the Institute is on its campus, they are separate organisations.
In the statement, they added that this morning’s fire raises concerns about fire safety in student accommodation in the city.
Additional reporting by AFP and Nicky Ryan.
Originally published 31 January