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SIX IRISH STUDENTS who died after a balcony collapsed at a 21st birthday party in the US city of Berkeley in California have been named.

The students were on a J1 and most of them were from South Dublin studying at UCD.

Here’s what we know so far:

  • The Irish students have been named, they are all aged between 21 and 22.
  • Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan says he believes they are all J1 students.
  • A further seven people are injured, some critically.
  • Four of the victims were pronounced dead at the scene. A fifth was pronounced dead shortly after arriving at hospital. The sixth death was confirmed at about 5pm today.
  • The young students were at a 21st birthday party in the apartment complex.
  • Anyone with concerns about friends or family in the region, should call the Emergency Consular Response Team on +353 1 418 0200
  • The cause of the 1am collapse is still not known.

While there have been reports of difficulty getting through to the Irish consular emergency line, the Department of Foreign Affairs has confirmed to TheJournal.ie that it is correct, but it has been “inundated” with calls.

Local NBC affiliate KNTV reports that many of the wounded, who have been taken to a number of area hospitals, have “critical, life-threatening” injuries, quoting a police spokesperson.

Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan is speaking at Government Buildings now. You can watch it here.

Charlie Flanagan says that he doesn’t have any details on the names or genders of the victims and has no further details on the cause of the collapse.

Amy Hollyfield of ABC7 reports that the students arrived just last month.

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Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan has confirmed that all of the victims are Irish.

Our Political Editor Hugh O’Connell reports that Charlie Flanagan said at Government Buildings a short time ago:

It’s with great sadness I can confirm following a tragic accident in Berkeley, San Francisco a few hours ago, five Irish students have lost their lives.

This is a very very challenging and difficult time for families, parents, and friends of those directly involved.

It’s been an appalling tragedy, an appalling loss of life for young people whose hopes and dreams and future have suddenly, and without notice, been shattered.

There were a number of other students in the apartment, at what I understand was a 21st birthday party, who’ve been injured.

They are being treated in a nearby hospital. I understand from both the police and indeed the hospitals that five Irish citizens have lost their lives

There were between 12 and 14 people on the balcony, all aged between 20 and 22.

An immigration centre for Irish people in San Francisco is asking students in California to call home as soon as possible.

ABC7 reports that the building was built “recently”.

Celine Kennelly of the IIPC in San Francisco has also taken to Facebook to offer help to those impacted directly by the tragedy.

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About 8,000 students applied for J1 visas to visit America this summer.

Minister Flanagan said today that it is “reasonable to assume that the [victims today] are all young Irish J1 students in California”.

He also noted that up to 35% of Irish J1 students visit the California region during their stay in the States.

Janet O of ABC News in San Francisco is reporting from Eden Medical Centre where four people are being treated for critical, life-threatening injuries.

She has spoken to some of the friends of the victims who are waiting in the Emergency Room of the hospital.

They told her they have now called their families to update them but are “shocked and “too distraught” to speak on camera.

Another four people are being treated at a different hospital. They are also said to be in critical, life-threatening conditions.

A statement from Archbishop Eamon Martin:

Like many others, I am shocked and deeply saddened to hear the reports of the tragic deaths of five Irish students earlier today in Berkeley, California. This devastating news will be felt by Irish people everywhere, and particularly by those who have family and friends abroad. I pray that the eight injured students will fully recover from this terrible accident.

The death of a child or young person is the worst news that a parent can receive. At this profoundly painful time I pray for those who have died, and ask also for prayerful support for their grieving families, fellow students and loved ones.

American families have started offering assistance and sympathies to bereaved parents from Ireland.

US Ambassador to Ireland, Kevin O’Malley has offered his condolences.

I would like to offer my heartfelt sympathy and condolence to the families, loved ones, and friends of the Irish students who lost their lives this morning in Berkeley, California.

All of us at the United States Embassy are greatly saddened by news of this tragic incident and are ready to do whatever we can to assist the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs at this difficult time.

A number of reports from the US say that friends of the victims are too upset to talk on camera.

Press Association photographer Noah Berger is on the scene and his photos show the damage to the balcony.

Berkeley Balcony Collapse Source: AP/Press Association Images

Berkeley Balcony Collapse Source: AP/Press Association Images

Those at the party flagged down passing motorists to raise the alarm, the Associated Press reports:

Jerry Robinson, who lives nearby, told San Francisco news station KGO-TV that he had just gotten out of a movie when two hysterical people flagged down his car asking for a ride to a hospital to check on injured friends.

“They were all trying to notify parents, and things like that,” he said. “They were trying to figure out from each other who was on the balcony and what their condition was.”

Leaders Questions has begun in the Dáil. Taoiseach Enda Kenny begins by saying his “heart breaks for the parents who lost children.”

Micheál Martin and Gerry Adams also follow in offering condolences.

The Highland Hospital in Oakland where some of the injured were taken. Four were brought to the Eden Medical Center. Some of the injured are critically hurt.

Berkeley Balcony Collapse Source: JEFF/AP

 

Berkeley Balcony Collapse Source: Associated Press

APTOPIX Berkeley Balcony Collapse Two women embrace as police move the body of a person who died. Source: AP/Noah Berger

The Associated Press have spoken two Irish students who were woken by sound of the balcony collapsing:

Police are working with fire and building officials to determine what caused the accident.

Police received a noise complaint concerning a loud party in the apartment about an hour before the balcony collapsed at 12:41 a.m. but had not yet responded.

The balcony, estimated to have been 5 feet by 10 feet, separated completely from the building and landed on a lower balcony.

“What the first responders said is it was quite disturbing,” said Byron White of the Berkeley Police Department. “Anytime you have a tragedy like this it’s quite awful.”

Two Irish students asleep in the building said they heard a bang during the accident:

“I walked out and I saw rubble on the street and a bunch of Irish students crying,” said Mark Neville, who has been in the US for three weeks on a J-1 visa.

“I just heard a bang and a lot of shouting,” added Dan Sullivan, 21.

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BREAKING: A sixth person has died following the balcony collapse. There are no further details on the victim as yet.

The sixth person died in hospital but it is unknown at present whether they were male or female.

Alameda County Sheriff’s Office say they are preparing a statement to provide more details of those who have died and are injured.

Berkeley Balcony Collapse People gather at the scene of the collapse on Kittredge Street. Source: Associated Press

Back home, Lord Mayor of Dublin Christy Burke has announced that a Book of Condolence will be opened at the Mansion House on Thursday morning:

I am opening a Book of Condolence to allow the people of Dublin to express their sympathies to the families and friends of those who died in this terrible tragedy. I offer my personal sympathy to all who have suffered the loss of loved ones and, at this time, my thoughts and prayers are with all those who have been affected by this tragic event.

Our political editor Hugh O’Connell reports…

The Taoiseach was informed of the Berkeley tragedy via text during the cabinet meeting early today and informed his ministerial colleagues.

The government has this evening not ruled out the possibility of sending a plane to the US to repatriate the victims’ remains. Discussions about the possibility of sending a representative of the Irish government are also taking place.

A spokesperson said: “The government stands ready with all facilities of the State to provide any assistance that is required.”

Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan speaking to George Hook on Newstalk:

What we are doing is ensuring that the information is forthcoming. What I would say to your listeners is that if anyone has contact with anyone in the region, students in particular, is to let them know to tell others that it’s vital that they get in touch.

Parents of children attending Loreto Foxrock have received a text to say that a number of the students who died were past pupils from the class of 2012.

A statement from USIT and SAYIT, which organise the student J1 programmes:

“USIT and SAYIT would like to express their deepest sympathy and support to all of our J-1 students, their families and their friends in the US and in Ireland who have been involved in this truly tragic situation in Berkeley, California.

“This is a devastating experience for everyone.

We are currently working in liaison with the Crisis Centre set up by the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs to respond to this emergency.

Some more pictures from the scene, from PA:

Berkeley Balcony Collapse Source: Associated Press

Berkeley Balcony Collapse Source: Associated Press

Berkeley Balcony Collapse Source: Associated Press

Jerry Robinson, who lives nearby, has been speaking to San Francisco news station KGO-TV.

He said he had just left a local cinema when two hysterical people flagged down his car asking for a lift to hospital to check on injured friends.

“They were friends of the people who were on the balcony. A couple of the women did not have shoes.

One of the women had blood on her knees.

Local reporter Joe Vazquez has been giving RTÉ’s Six One the latest from the scene of the tragedy.

Reporting from across the street, he explained how it appeared one balcony had collapsed onto a balcony one floor below, as the party was taking place.

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Vazquez said building inspectors were at the scene, and that every balcony in the apartment block had been ‘red-tagged’ – meaning the structures were currently deemed ‘not suitable for human habitation’.

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3 Source: RTÉ

 

Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan has released another statement.

He says “the identities of the deceased Irish citizens are in the process of being officially confirmed”.

flan Source: Merrionstreet.ie

The full statement from Minister Flanagan:

“Today is an horrific day for those who have lost loved ones in tragic circumstances in San Francisco and for all those affected. In my Department and in our Consulate in San Francisco, the students and their families have been at the centre of our thoughts and actions today.

“We have taken a number of practical steps to assist. Our Consulate in San Francisco and the Department’s Emergency Consular Response Team in Dublin continue to work with the local authorities to identify and make contact with the families of all the Irish students involved in this morning’s tragic incident in Berkley.

“The identities of the deceased Irish citizens are in the process of being officially confirmed. Our thoughts and heartfelt sympathies are with the families and friends of the deceased at this most difficult time.

“We are also working with the authorities across several hospitals to confirm the extent of the injuries suffered by our citizens involved, and to relay this information to families as soon as possible.

“Our Consul General in San Francisco is in close contact with Irish community organisations on the ground, and I welcome their offers of assistance and expression of solidarity at this difficult time.

“My thoughts are also with the many young students, who escaped injury but will be deeply shocked at the events. I would like to pay tribute to those who assisted at the scene and who have been working with the local authorities. These will be difficult days for everyone who has experienced this traumatic event, but the students are not on their own and led by our Consulate in San Francisco all assistance possible will be extended to them.

“Our Consular Emergency Response line received an unprecedented volume of calls this afternoon. This demonstrates that this is an incident that has touched many Irish families – not just those whose sons and daughters were actually there, but all families who have a loved one travelling this summer.

“I would again urge Irish students in the San Francisco area who have not yet been in touch with their families in Ireland to please do so. To those families who have contacted the Department, I would ask that they update us if they have heard from their loved one.

“Anyone with concerns about friends or family in the region, should call the Emergency Consular Response Team on +353 1 418 0200.”

Shocked-looking Irish students, who have been staying nearby, have been talking to local media:

rte2 Source: RTÉ screengrab

Local reporter Janet O says a priest from the area’s Irish community has been helping friends of the students affected:

Charlie Flanagan speaking to RTÉ News now…

He’s basically been reiterating the content of his statement from a few minutes ago.

Hundreds of calls have been received by the team responding to the tragedy, he told Brian Dobson.

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The important thing is that “contact is made” between students affected and their families, Flanagan says.

Many families will wish to travel to California, the Department has been in contact with airlines and is “anxious to help in any way possible” he adds.

Father Brendan McBride, who has been helping Irish students affected by the tragedy, says the injured are being treated at three separate hospitals in the area.

The entire Irish community is coming together to respond, McBride told RTÉ News.

The situation is “unbelievably difficult” for the families of the students, he said.

US Ambassador Kevin O’Malley says embassy staff knew many of the students affected:

They had been to some of our send-off parties at the residence and at other places and it was … personal and very tragic.

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He issued a statement earlier:

All of us at the United States Embassy are greatly saddened by news of this tragic incident and are ready to do whatever we can to assist the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs at this difficult time. We will continue to coordinate as more details become available.

Our thoughts and prayers are with the families, loved ones, and friends at this difficult time.

The San Francisco Chronicle has been talking to a local structural engineer.

san4 Source: San Francisco Chronicle

From the paper:

“The reason for the balcony collapse was not known. Berkeley police homicide investigators were among those on the scene, and investigators were in contact with the building’s owner, authorities said.

Gene St. Onge, an Oakland civil and structural engineer, reviewed a picture of the detached balcony at the request of The Chronicle.

“While stressing that his assessment was preliminary, St. Onge said, “This appears to be a classic case of there being inadequate waterproofing at the point where the deck meets the house. If the waterproofing is substandard, rainwater can enter the building, causing dry rot, which can destroy the wood members within a short time, i.e. only a few years from construction.”

The article added:

“Messages left at the Library Gardens office and with Greystar, the company that manages the property, were not immediately returned.”

USA Today reporter Jessica Guynn tweeted this photo of a card left outside the apartment.

It reads:

“You dear Irish students…

“Oh my goodness. We are so very sorry to hear of your loss of your friends.

“It has been lovely to see you all around town. I was so sorry to hear of their passing.

“Here is a hug for each of you. Here are prayers for those in the hospitals. And here are prayers for those who passed on.”

The Office of the Coroner in Oakland, California has confirmed a press conference will  be held at 1pm (9pm Irish time).

The latest statement from Minister Flanagan:

The families who have been bereaved in the tragedy in Berkeley earlier today have now all been contacted. I again want to express my deepest sympathy to the families and loved ones of those who lost their lives in this appalling incident.  We continue to provide all possible consular assistance to those affected.

The City of Berkeley have issued a statement on today’s tragedy.

The injured were transported to Highland Hospital in Oakland, Eden Medical Center in Castro Valley, and John Muir Medical Center in Walnut Creek. Due to privacy concerns, the City cannot release the names of the injured.

The Alameda County Coroner’s Bureau will release the names of the deceased when their identities have been confirmed and next of kin have been notified.

The City of Berkeley also states:

Building inspectors visited the building at 2020 Kittredge Street early Tuesday morning.

The balcony for the affected unit, as well as the three other similar balconies in the building, have each been red-tagged, prohibiting access to those areas.

The City says it has ordered the property owner to immediately remove the failed balcony and to perform a structural assessment of the remaining balconies within 48 hours.

The building finished construction in January 2007, it stated.

Berkeley police are expected to start a press conference shortly.

The Mayor of Berkeley Tom Bates has expressed his condolences.

The Consulate General of Ireland Philip Grant said this has ‘left us all frozen with shock and disbelief’.

“Very few have been left untouched by this tragedy.”

He added that the first family members will be arriving in Berkeley this evening and asked for them to be given space to grieve.

“There are very much questions that we would like to have the answers to.”

“On behalf of the people of Ireland … we couldn’t have asked for a warmer support network. Go raibh mile maith agat.”

Victims named as Olivia Burke, aged 21.

Eoghan Culligan, 21

Ashley Donohoe, 22

Lorcan Miller, 21

Eimear Walsh, 21

Niccolai Schuster, 21

Reporters at the press conference have been told that the medical condition of any patients cannot be disclosed.

They’ve also been told that they are investigating how this happened and ‘should know more soon’.

Mayor Bates says “this is a wake up call” and “we’ll get to the bottom of this”.

“We really have to get to the bottom of it…we could sue, there could be charges made if appropriate.”

The Mayor finished by saying, “It’s a dark dark day.”

It’s understood that most of the teenagers are from South Dublin and that one is from Galway.

It’s understood the majority of the young people were students at UCD.

The UCD President Andrew Deeks released a statement saying, “On behalf of the entire University community, I wish to extend our condolences to the families and friends of those who died and to those who were injured.  We cannot comprehend the desperate shock and grief they are feeling and we are heartbroken at their suffering and loss.”

The University is opening a book of condolences online at UCD.ie where students and the public can share their sympathies.

Colleagues in University of California Berkeley have offered to place their counselling services at the disposal of the Irish students in the area.

UCD President Andrew Deeks says, “Our students, like thousands of others across Ireland, head to the US each summer on J1 visas to enjoy the experience.

It is heart-breaking to imagine that such a tragedy would strike these wonderful students when their lives are opening up to discover the world.

A spokesperson for the property management company Greystar says it has “taken precautionary steps to limit access to other balconies at the apartment complex as law enforcement completes its investigation”.

statement

Philip Grant, Consul General of Ireland of the Western United States and Mayor of Berkeley Tom Bates at the press conference.

Berkeley Balcony Collapse Source: AP/Press Association Images

Police said they didn’t respond to the initial noise reports at the apartment as they had received a call about shots being fired in the South Berekeley area.

However, they said they responded immediately when they were informed about the balcony collapse.

The President of UCD Students’ Union, Marcus O’Halloran, has released a statement:

I can’t imagine the grief of the families & friends of those students involved, I can only extend my deepest sympathies and say that my heart goes out to them and all those affected by this catastrophe.

This is a tragic loss, it affects the entire student community and all families in this country.

Berkeley Balcony Collapse Source: AP/Press Association Images

Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates:

“We’re so sad and we feel so humbled that people in Ireland are reaching out to us. We just wish all the people the best.”

Bates said, “We’re not going to leave any rock unturned…we have all these buildings that are under construction and we want them built perfectly.

“We certainly don’t want this kind of thing to happen.”

Workers with BELFOR Restoration Company at the fourth floor balcony railing that now rests on the balcony below at the Library Gardens apartment complex in Berkeley.

Berkeley Balcony Collapse Source: AP/Press Association Images

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