Belfast Telegraph

Balcony collapse in Berkeley California leaves six Irish students dead

Six Irish students have been killed following a balcony collapse during 21st birthday party in Berkeley, California.

Police said six people died and seven others were injured when the fourth-floor balcony of Library Gardens complex on Kittredge Street collapsed early on Tuesday. It is understood four died at the scene while two others died later in hospital.

The balcony collapse caused the dead and injured to plunge about 40ft (12.2m) to the ground.

Police found debris on the street below after an emergency call at 1am local time (8am GMT) .

It is understood that the students, in the country on J1 work visas, were aged between 20 and 22 years. The families of the students have been informed.

Usit Ireland, a Dublin-based organisation that helps Irish students enter the US on exchange visas, says it is working with government officials in the Republic who have set up a special crisis centre to deal with the tragedy.

Police said they received a noise complaint concerning a loud party in the apartment about an hour before the balcony collapsed at 12.41am local time, but had not yet responded, said officer Byron White of the Berkeley Police Department.

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

"What the first responders said is, it was quite disturbing," Mr White said.

"Any time 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.

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

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

Building inspectors have barred people from using the remaining balconies in the complex.

Berkeley police said they want to inspect the remaining balconies for safety.

The apartment complex is a popular residence for University of California, Berkeley students. The building is near the university campus.

Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan 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 balcony in Berkley, California earlier today.”

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Charlie Flanagan, the Republic's Minister for Foreign Affairs, confirmed the news was broken to close relatives of those killed.

"The families who have been bereaved in the tragedy in Berkeley earlier today have now all been contacted," he said.

"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."

It is being reported that there was a large number of people at the party, and between 12 and 14 people may have been on the small balcony on the fourth floor. The building is relatively new - dating from 2006.

The injured were taken to a number of hospitals across the Bay Area, including Eden.

James Mullaney (20), who lives in the same apartment block where the tragedy occurred, said he and his housemates woke up to the sound of sirens on the street.

Mr Mullaney said: “We’re overlooking the street. We just heard a lot of noise. We were asleep and woke up with the noise of the sirens, there were emergency crews everywhere and TV crews.”

“Right now, there are police across the street and people setting up tv cameras. But the road is not closed.”

“As soon as I saw all the emergency services, I just texted my mother to say ‘in case you hear anything, I’m grand’. She knew as soon as I woke up that I was OK.”

Irish president Michael D. Higgins said, "I have heard with the greatest sadness of the terrible loss of life of young Irish people and the critical injury of others in Berkeley, California today.

"My heart goes out to the families and loved one’s of all those involved.  I have been informed of the consular assistance being provided to assist all of the families involved and I have asked to be kept informed as further details emerge."

Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness and Sinn Fein's Gerry Adams added their condolences over the tragedy.

Prayers for balcony plunge victims

The Republic's Taoiseach Enda Kenny has said his "heart breaks" for the families of five students who have died in the US after a balcony collapsed during a 21st birthday party.

Addressing the parliament in Dublin, Mr Kenny said it was too early to know the full extent of the tragedy involving Irish 20-somethings on a working holiday in Berkeley, California.

At least another eight were injured, some critically, in the incident on the fourth floor of an apartment complex in the college city in the early hours of the morning.

The balcony collapse caused the dead and injured to plunge about 40ft (12.2m) to the ground.

Mr Kenny said he was "shocked and saddened" to hear of the unfolding events.

"My heart breaks for the parents who lost children this morning and I can only imagine the fear in the hearts of other parents whose children are in California this summer as they seek to contact them now," he said.

"It is truly terrible to have such a serious and sad incidence take place at the beginning of a summer of adventure and opportunity for so many young people on J1 visas in the US."

The Taoiseach said "it is too early to say (what) the full extent" is of the "dreadful accident".

"According to information from local police there were 13 people on the balcony at the time of collapse, there is no official confirmation yet of their identities or the nationality of all those involved," he said.

"Current information suggests all of those are Irish."

All of those who were killed or injured are believed to be aged between 20 and 22.

There were no immediate details of how the incident occurred.

Investigations by local police in the city are centring on how many people were on the balcony when it collapsed.

The complex in Library Gardens off Kittredge Street was built in 2006.

Pictures showed that the balcony appeared to have broken off from the building and partly landed on the third-floor balcony below as well as in the street.

The accident happened after midnight local time, eight hours behind UK and Ireland time.

Relatives of the dead and injured have been in contact with at least three hospitals in and around Berkeley where emergency trauma centres were set up following the accident.

Berkeley Fire Department and police and city officials were on the scene, which has been sealed off, while eyewitness reports said a number of bodies remained outside the apartment.

The Republic's Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan confirmed the tragedy involved Irish students who were in the US state for the summer on J1 working visas.

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

"My heart goes out to the families and loved ones of the deceased and those who have been injured in this appalling accident," said Mr Flanagan.

Those caught up in the incident were rushed to hospitals and trauma centres in and around Berkeley, and also in Oakland and to Walnut Creek, with fire crews from several stations in the city involved in the emergency response.

Social workers were on hand in some of the hospitals to field calls from family and friends of those caught up in the accident.

A special emergency helpline set up at the Department of Foreign Affairs in Dublin has been inundated with calls in the wake of the tragedy.

At least four people were taken to the Sutter Alta Bates Summit Medical Centre.

Irish President Michael D Higgins sent a message of condolence while on a state visit to Italy.

"I have heard with the greatest sadness of the terrible loss of life of young Irish people and the critical injury of others in Berkeley, California, today," he said.

"My heart goes out to the families and loved ones of all those involved. I have been informed of the consular assistance being provided to assist all of the families involved and I have asked to be kept informed as further details emerge."

Opposition leaders, Fianna Fail's Micheal Martin and Sinn Fein's Gerry Adams, also expressed their sympathies with the families of victims ahead of Leaders Questions in the Dail parliament.

Mr Martin said the hearts and minds of everybody were with the families of those whose "lives were taken from them in their prime in the beauty of an American summer".

The US Ambassador to Ireland, Kevin O'Malley, expressed sympathy to the families, loved ones and friends of those who died.

"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 co-ordinate as more details become available," he said.

Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness added his condolences over the tragedy.

"Shocking news of the deaths of several young Irish people in a tragic accident in California. My heart and sympathy goes out to their families," he said.

Archbishop Eamon Martin, leader of the Catholic Church in Ireland, said he is praying for the families of victims during their "profoundly painful" time.

"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," he said.

"This devastating news will be felt by Irish people everywhere, and particularly by those who have family and friends abroad."

Archbishop Martin said he is also praying that the injured students will recover.

He added: "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."

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