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Berkeley: Family asks for prayers as friends fight for their lives amid claim another balcony found to be unsafe at California building

By Ralph Riegel

Two of the victims of the J1 student tragedy in Berkeley are fighting for their lives in hospital amid revelations that a second balcony at the complex has now been found to be structurally unsafe.

Aoife Beary from Blackrock and Hannah Waters from Castleknock are both in a critical condition. Their parents are by their bedsides at Oakland Hospital, where the girls were taken by ambulance following the collapse of the balcony, which claimed the lives of six students.

Aoife's 21st birthday was being celebrated in the apartment where the accident happened on Monday night.

Her cousin, Ashley Donohoe, died in the tragedy, as did her friends, Olivia Burke and Eimear Walsh, with whom she shared apartment 405.

Her parents, Michael and Angela, arrived in San Francisco on Monday night as did Hannah's parents, Martin and Una.

Hannah's cousin, Sasha, appealed for prayers last night: "She is one of the half dozen that have survived this tragedy and is fighting for her life."

Another four students are still being treated in other hospitals in the area.

Following revelations of resident complaints of flooding in February 2013, investigations into the tragedy are focusing on the possibility dry rot caused the collapse.

However, it has also emerged that the balcony was at the centre of a planning wrangle 13 years ago between the City of Berkeley Design Review Committee and the complex developers.

A February 2002 memo reveals that city planners insisted they "need sample of balcony material" and that they would "prefer a lighter touch for two balconies on the Kittredge side".

Former Berkeley Design Review Committee official, Carrie Olson, who abstained from the approval vote, said the balconies were for decorative rather than practical purposes.

"[They were] definitely not large enough to be what the city would call an 'open space balcony,' where groups of people could stand outside," she said.

The revelation came as the City of Berkeley confirmed a second balcony at the US complex has now been found to be structurally unsafe.

City official Matthai Chakko said: "A field investigation by building inspectors determined that the third floor exterior balcony to Unit 305 at 2020 Kittredge was structurally unsafe and presented a collapse hazard."

Further Reading

Rotten wood find in balcony probe 

Berkeley balcony collapse: Newry father whose son died in US hit-and-run offers to repatriate victims 

Berkeley balcony collapse: probe into tragedy begins in California 

Berkeley balcony collapse: Irish US ambassador writes to New York Times over 'despicable' coverage of tragedy  

Berkeley balcony collapse: 'I've lost the love of my life and my best friend', says girlfriend of victim Eoghan Culligan 

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