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Dublin: 2 °C Saturday 18 January, 2020
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Berkeley Mayor says fatal balcony collapse was 'more than likely' caused by water damage

Investigators believe the wood was not sealed properly at the time of construction.

Updated 22.30pm

Berkeley Balcony Collapse Source: AP/Press Association Images

THE MAYOR OF Berkeley has said that investigators believe the balcony which collapsed and killed six students was damaged by water.

Tom Bates said the balcony wasn’t sealed properly at the time of construction and was damaged by moisture as a result and that it had rotten wooden beams.

More than likely, it was caused by rain and water damage that was caused to the support beams.

However, the mayor has since said that the comments were ‘speculation’ on his part.

Berkeley Balcony Collapse Source: AP/Press Association Images

The six students, named as dual US/Irish citizen Ashley Donohoe (22) and Irish students Olivia Burke, Eoghan Culligan, Niccolai Schuster, Lorcan Miller and Eimear Walsh (all 21), had been celebrating a friend’s 21st birthday at an apartment in downtown Berkeley late on Monday night, when the fourth-storey balcony gave way, collapsing to the street below.

One of the seven who are injured in hospital is the girl whose birthday was being celebrated. One person is believed to be seriously injured, while others are believed to have life-changing injuries.

pastedimage-92419-543x500 Eoghan Culligan, Eimear Walsh, Nick Schuster (top row), Olivia Burke, Lorcán Miller and Ashley Donohoe Source: Facebook

The Mayor of Berkeley Tom Bates is expected to have a full report into the tragedy within a number of days.

Investigators will look at such things as whether the balcony was built to code, whether it was overloaded and whether rain or other weather weakened it, said Kevin Moore, chairman of the structural standards committee of the Structural Engineers Association of California.

Berkeley officials said the building code at the time of construction required the balcony hold at least 60 pounds per square foot. That requirement has since been raised to 100 pounds.

Berkeley spokesman Matthai Chakko said officials have not measured the balcony to find out how big it was and how much weight it was built to bear based on the 60-pound per square foot standard in place when the building went up. Chakko also said there is no city requirement to post a weight restriction for balconies in apartments.

Berkeley Balcony Collapse Source: AP/Press Association Images

Grace Kang, a structural engineer and spokeswoman for Pacific Earthquake Engineering Research Centre at UC Berkeley, said the balcony’s dimensions looked to her to be 4 by 6 feet, or 24 square feet.

That would mean the balcony should hold at least 1,440 pounds, a total that likely would have been exceeded by 13 adults.

Also, the apartment house was a wood-frame construction, and the balcony was cantilevered out from the building, with no additional support beneath. Both can make a balcony more vulnerable to dry rot and weathering in general, Kang said.

Dáil tributes

Politicians have being paying tributes in the Dáil this lunchtime with Taoiseach Enda Kenny confirming that Diaspora Minister Jimmy Deenihan will travel to San Francisco in a “show of solidarity”.

Kenny said there is a team of officials at Dublin Airport to assist families travelling to US, they will be met on arrival by a local consular team.

enda jimmy Source: Oireachtas.ie

The Department of Foreign Affairs  has been in touch with all families who have been affected and each has a designated liaison officer.

Kenny said the country had been shocked by the loss of life and described victims as “such beautiful young people, full of joy and excitement and hope”.

He added:

When you look at the papers this morning, don’t you see the faces of your own sons and daughters?
“It is a terrible situation to have such a serious and sad incident take place at the beginning of a summer’s activity.

Tánaiste Joan Burton said there were no words to describe the tragedy and described the victims as “wonderful, beautiful young people”.

Burton described a J1 as “a right of pass and an opportunity to gain valuable life and cultural experience and should have been “the summer of love, the summer of fun”

Six families are heartbroken, their children are wrenched away from them in the most tragic of circumstances… We will do whatever we can to support them all.

The Dáil has been suspended until 2.30pm as a mark of respect to the victims.

Tricolours at Irish government buildings are flying at half mast today as a mark of respect to those who died.

Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan says his department are assisting families of the students, some of whom have begun to arrive in San Francisco.

Tribute

The Tánaiste Joan Burton said that the collapse was the “utmost tragedy”.

“As a former J1 student myself, who can still remember the excitement of travelling to the United States for that summer, I know what the J1 experience is meant to be.

It’s meant to be a rite of passage, an opportunity to gain invaluable life and cultural experiences in a country that is so close to our heart.

“But today, six families are heartbroken, their loved ones wrenched away from them in the most dreadful of circumstances.”

Support in Berkeley 

Speaking on RTÉ News this evening, Consul to Ireland, Philip Grant said that it is going to be a long few days, but that the support in Berkeley has been “extraordinary”.

He said supports had been set up in Berkeley for those students, friends and families who have been effected by yesterday’s tragedy.

Families are meeting with county coroner this evening about repatriating the bodies of the students back to Ireland. Grant said this would be done as quickly as possible.

Grant said there was no update this evening on the condition of the other students in hospital. Some are believed to have life-altering injuries.

A vigil mass is being held in the Oakland area of California this evening to remember those that died.

- with reporting from Hugh O’Connell, Órla Ryan, Christina Finn and Associated Press

Read: Irish students killed in balcony collapse named by US authorities

Read: ‘We will all share the loss’: Tributes paid to Irish students tragically killed in balcony collapse

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