Monday 24 October 2016

Berkeley tragedy: Injured hailed as 'fighters' as families aim to bring home bodies of loved ones

People queue up to sign books of condolences at the Mansion House, inset left Hannah Water, inset right Aoife Beary
People queue up to sign books of condolences at the Mansion House, inset left Hannah Water, inset right Aoife Beary
Aoife Beary
Students and friends of Eoghan Culligan, who died in the Berkeley balcony collapse light a candle for the victims of the tradgedy at DIT, Aungier Street at a memorial service for the victims
Members of the public signing a book of condolences for the victims of the Berkley balcony collapse tradgedy this morning at the Mansion House, Dublin

THE Irish students who were seriously injured in the horrific Berkeley balcony fall that saw six of their friends die have been hailed as "fighters".

The seven students remained in hospital in the San Francisco area last night, with two - Hannah Waters, from Castleknock, and Aoife Beary, Blackrock - understood to be in a critical condition.

The Irish consul general in the city, Philip Grant, was asked about their condition.

"The nature of the injuries we will not know for a number of days," he said. "But we are confident they are getting the best care. They're fighters."

READ MORE: Hundreds line up to pay their respects to tragic students

Dublin City University student Hannah is in Oakland Hospital with her family at her bedside.

Her brother, Marty, took to social media to express his appreciation to those who have been supporting the family.

"Just want to thank everyone for their kind words of support during these tough times, it really means a lot," he wrote.

Aoife Beary

"I've arrived in America to be with my family and more importantly my little sister who is staying strong and battling through, hopefully she can recover as quick as possible.

"My thoughts and condolences are with the families and friends who have lost their loved ones in this tragic accident."

READ MORE: German football star Bastian Schweinsteiger pays tribute to tragic Berkeley victim

Repatriation arrangements for the six dead are still being finalised, with the earliest depart ure likely to be tomorrow.

Mr Grant said the timeline was still open due to the need for coordination of arrangements between the Berkeley authorities, the undertakers, families and Aer Lingus.

Berkeley Tragedy Victims' Fund

The Irish Immigration Pastoral Centre in San Francisco has set up an online account to raise funds for the students affected by this tragedy and to assist the immediate needs of their families.

Click here to make a donation to the fund

A joint memorial service will be held tomorrow at Rohnart in Marin County, California, for Irish-American Ashley Donohoe (22) and her cousin, Olivia Burke (21), after which arrangements will be made for Ms Burke's body to be brought home to Ireland.

READ MORE: UCD student Jack hailed a hero for saving life of Clodagh (21) in balcony collapse

The bodies of the four other students who died - Dubliners Eoghan Culligan, Nick Schuster, Lorcan Miller and Eimear Walsh (all 21) - are expected to be back on Irish soil on Monday at the latest. Families of the victims met with Berkeley city authorities to hear details of the process involved in repatriating their loved ones.

READ MORE: Berkeley tragedy: Death balcony builders sued for ‘shoddy’ work last year

"The ultimate objective is to bring them home as quickly as we can with their families at the same time," said Mr Grant.

Two families were due to arrive in San Francisco yesterday afternoon, and Minister for the Diaspora Jimmy Deenihan was scheduled to visit the site of the tragedy at Library Gardens Apartments.

He was also due to meet the families and visit the three hospitals where the seven injured students are under- going treatment.

Aoife Beary, who it is believed was hosting her 21st party when the accident happened, has been joined by her parents who are keeping a bedside vigil at the Oakland Hospital.

Sean Fahey (21), from Rathmines, who is being treated at the Eden Medical Centre, posted a message on social media yesterday.

"Thanks everyone for the support in such a dark time RIP," he wrote, with a picture of graffiti artwork reading "Berkeley Six Rest in Paradise".

Hannah Waters

Jack Halpin, Clodagh Cogley, Conor Flynn and Niall Murray also remain in hospital.

It emerged yesterday that the construction company that built Library Gardens where the tragedy happened had previously paid $3m to settle a claim that shoddy construction on apartment balconies led to rot.

Court filings show that last year Segue Construction Inc settled a lawsuit out of court over "water penetration" problems on dozens of balconies in a San Jose apartment complex.

A spokesman for Segue said the balconies in San Jose were "substantially different" from the Berkeley one.

"It is like comparing apples and oranges," he said.

Mayor of Berkeley Tom Bates said he was "shocked" to hear about the previous case.

He said he believed there was a "high probability" that water had penetrated and rotted the wooden underpinnings of the fourth-floor balcony that gave way under the students.

"We'll have to reserve judgment for now," he said. "The weight of the students is no excuse."

He said the deaths of the students "ranks of one of the most tragic things ever in Berkeley".

Additional reporting by Robin Schiller

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