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Berkeley balcony collapsed due to dry rot, US investigators confirm

Investigators in Berkeley, California have confirmed that a balcony, from which six students fell to their deaths, collapsed due to dry rot.

The preliminary findings of the investigation by the City of Berkeley in San Francisco confirmed, as suspected, that eight timber support beams on the fourth storey balcony had massively deteriorated due to dry rot.

The Library Gardens apartment complex was only commissioned in 2007 and the timber beams should have been able to support a balcony weight of almost two tonnes.

However it failed at 12.41am last Tuesday, throwing six students, five Irish and one American, to their deaths. They are Eimear Walsh, Eoghan Culligan, Niccolai (Nick) Schuster, Olivia Burke, Ashley Donohoe and Lorcan Miller.

Seven other students were badly injured and remain in hospital in the US.

The report, compiled by City of Berkeley engineers, confirmed that: "the deck joist ends protruding from the exterior wall appeared to be severely dry rotted."

However, the full report in the horrific accident at 2020 Kittredge Street will not be completed for several months.

The City of Berkeley has confirmed that, in light of the findings and the scale of the tragedy, new regulations will come into force.

"Based on their observations, City staff will recommend that the City Council adopt new and modified regulations to enhance the safety of all current and future buildings in Berkeley," an official said.

"The changes would make new balconies and other sealed areas exposed to weather subject to stricter requirements on materials, inspection and ventilation. In addition, the proposed regulations would institute regular maintenance inspections for all such spaces for future buildings as well as those units already built."

The new inspection requirements would apply to existing buildings and would require inspections of all such spaces within six months of the passage of the proposed ordinances.

Subsequently, those units would be required to have maintenance inspections by qualified inspectors once every five years.

Berkeley's ongoing investigation is now focused on why timber beams less than eight years old should have rotted so badly and failed so catastrophically.

The investigation is dealing with the waterproofing of the beams and whether the weather-sealant applied was damaged during installation or may have been somehow perforated.

The building owners, lease management company and builders are co-operating with the City of Berkeley probe.

The draft report was published on the same day as the funerals of Eimear Walsh and Eoghan Culligan took place.

The funerals of Olivia Burke and Niccolai Schuster will take place tomorrow, while Lorcan Miller will be laid to rest on Thursday.

The sixth victim Ashley Donohoe was from the US and was a cousin of Olivia Burke. She was laid to rest on Saturday following a joint funeral with Olivia.

Irish Independent

Further reading

Thousands of mourners attend funerals in Dublin of two victims

Belfast pays its respects to Berkeley balcony fall students

Berkeley balcony collapse survivors remain in hospital

Builders paid $3m to settle lawsuit over 'shoddy construction on apartment balconies that led to rot'

Mayor of Californian city says 'wood had not been sealed properly'

Newry father whose son died in US hit-and-run offers to repatriate victims

Irish US ambassador writes to New York Times over 'despicable' coverage of tragedy

Six Irish students who died in Berkeley, California are named 

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