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Six dead in Berkeley balcony collapse

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The fourth floor balcony collapsed onto the balcony below and those on it were thrown into the street.

By Ray O’Hanlon
rohanlon@irishecho.com

What was to be a night of joy and celebration turned into a nightmare for a group of Irish J-1 students when a balcony in a Berkeley, California apartment complex gave way, pitching it occupants into the street below.

At the time of writing the death toll is six, believed to be all Irish students working in the Bay Area for the summer.

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A number of others, and perhaps as many as seven, are reportedly being treated for serious injuries. Some of them are critical.

No identities of the dead and injured were available at the time of writing.

The tragedy occurred shortly after midnight, Pacific Time, Tuesday.

The students had gathered in the apartment to celebrate a 21st birthday.

Reports estimated the number of students on the balcony at the time of the collapse at between 12 and 14.

There was a report, carried by the Irish Independent in Dublin, that the apartment lacked air conditioning, though this remains to be confirmed.

The apartment was close to the campus of the University of California, Berkeley.

Police and emergency workers came upon a horrific scene at the four-story Library Gardens apartment complex 2020 Kittredge St. west of Shattuck Avenue, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

The report continued: “Four people died at the scene. At 5:45 a.m. their bodies remained outside the building while authorities awaited the arrival of the medical examiner. The fifth victim died at a hospital, police said.

“The building was constructed within the past few years, said Officer Byron White, a Berkeley Police Department spokesman. The reason for the collapse was not known. Police were in contact with the building’s owner, White said.

“Double French doors led from the building to the balcony. Shredded wood and insulation was visible where the balcony had been attached. The structure itself landed on the third-floor balcony below,” the Chronicle report added.

As news of the collapse spread, the Irish government alerted the Irish Consulate in San Francisco, which is now providing assistance to victims and the families whose members were caught up in the tragedy.

Minister for Foreign Affairs, Charlie Flanagan, released a statement.

He said: "It is with great sadness that I confirm that a number of young Irish citizens have lost their lives while a number of others have been seriously injured following the collapse of a balcony in Berkeley, California earlier today.

"My heart goes out to the families and loved ones of the deceased and those who have been injured in this appalling incident. My department in Dublin stands ready to provide all possible consular assistance to the Irish citizens affected by this tragedy.

"Our Consul General in San Francisco is in close contact with the authorities and will be providing assistance to those affected on the ground.

"It is too early to know the full extent of this dreadful accident but I have opened my department's consular crisis center and activated our emergency response line so we can provide assistance and guidance to the families of those affected and to others who have concerns. Anyone with concerns about friends or family in the region should call the emergency consular response team on +353 1 418 0200."

Jimmy Deenihan, Minister for Diaspora Affairs, also offered issued a statement.

“The loss of life in such tragic circumstances is an enormous blow to the families involved and to the country. Our thoughts are with these families and with those who have been injured,” Deenihan said.

The U.S. Ambassador to Ireland, Kevin O’Malley, also released a statement.

“I would like to offer my heartfelt sympathy and condolence to the families, loved one, and friends of the Irish student who lost their live this morning in Berkeley, California.

“All of us at the United States Embassy are greatly saddened by the news of this tragedy and are ready to do whatever we can to assist the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs at this difficult time. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families, loved ones, and friends at this difficult time,” O’Malley said.

In New York, the Emerald Isle Immigration Center also expressed shock and sympathy.

The EIIC said in part in its statement, which was directed at J-1 students: “The Emerald Isle Immigration Center wishes to express our deepest sympathies to the families and friends of all the victims of the tragic accident in Berkeley, California. We understand that some of you may be affected by this. If you feel you need to speak to someone, please contact the EIIC at (718)478-5502, Olive Lyons, Ext. 203, or Caitriona Howley, EXT. 220.”