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Berkeley

Collapsed balcony that killed six was 'meant for decoration' claims former city official

The mayor of the city said the wood supporting the balcony was likely rotted.

Balcony Deaths Mourners stand by during a candlelight vigil. AP / Press Association Images AP / Press Association Images / Press Association Images

THE BALCONY WHICH collapsed, killing six Irish students, may have been rotted, the mayor of the city of Berkeley has said.

Niccolai Schuster (21), Eoghan Culligan (21), Eimear Walsh (21), Olivia Burke (21), Ashley Donohoe (22) and Lorcan Miller (21) were celebrating a 21st birthday party in an apartment in the Californian city of Berkeley when the fourth-floor balcony collapsed.

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Mayor Tom Bates said investigators believe the wood was not caulked and sealed properly at the time of construction and was damaged by moisture as a result.

“It appears to be a classic case of dry rot, meaning water intruded into the building (and) rotted the wood” supporting the balcony, civil and structural engineer Gene St Onge, who saw the damage, told The Los Angeles Times.

A member of the review board who approved the building of the Library Gardens complex told the San Francisco Chronicle that the balcony was meant for decoration.

Berkeley Balcony Collapse AP / Press Association Images AP / Press Association Images / Press Association Images

It was definitely not large enough to be what the city would call an ‘open space balcony,’ where groups of people could stand outside,” said Carrie Olson, who abstained from the vote on the complex because it was “bland” and “difficult to love”.

“This was meant just to be a place where someone could stand out for bit, get a breath of fresh air. Not for something like 13 people.”

Balcony Deaths A man holds his head during a memorial service for the six Irish students at the Cathedral of Christ the Light. AP / Press Association Images AP / Press Association Images / Press Association Images

She said there are a number of balconies like the one that collapsed in the city, but it was up to authorities to make sure they are safe.

“It seems that those students were just doing what young people do, crowding onto a balcony,” she said.

But it’s up to us, not them, to make this stuff safe. That’s just what kids do. We have a responsibility, not just as citizens of Berkeley but as citizens of the world who send their children here, to make sure our structures are safe.

Vigils

Berkeley Balcony Collapse A man who did not give his name looks at photographs, cards and flowers from a shrine for victims from the Library Gardens apartment building balcony collapse. AP / Press Association Images AP / Press Association Images / Press Association Images

In the nearby city of Oakland, a mass was held to honour the memory of those killed.

The gathering of about 300 people, which included some fellow Irish students but no relatives of the victims, heard “Amazing Grace” played on bagpipes as they mourned.

“All we can do is to pray, to love and to care for them,” Father Aidan McAleenan, originally from County Down, who had met with some of the victims, said at the mass.

Balcony Deaths AP / Press Association Images AP / Press Association Images / Press Association Images

There will be a joint funeral in San Francisco this week for cousins Olivia Burke and Ashley Donohoe, a dual US/Irish citizen, before Olivia’s body is returned to Ireland.

Read: Book of condolences for students killed in Berkeley to open in Dublin’s Mansion House

Read: Berkeley Mayor says fatal balcony collapse was ‘more than likely’ caused by water damage

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