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Tuesday 6 December 2016

Berkeley tragedy: Rotted beams likely cause of balcony collapse, says city mayor

The remaining wood from the Library Gardens apartment building balcony that collapsed is shown in Berkeley, Calif., Wednesday, June 17, 2015. The balcony broke loose from the building during a 21st birthday party early Tuesday, killing several people and seriously injuring others. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
The remaining wood from the Library Gardens apartment building balcony that collapsed is shown in Berkeley, Calif., Wednesday, June 17, 2015. The balcony broke loose from the building during a 21st birthday party early Tuesday, killing several people and seriously injuring others. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
The remains of the damaged balcony are removed from the 4th-story apartment building in Berkeley. Photo: Reuters
Visitors lay flowers on a makeshift memorial near the scene of a 4th-story apartment building balcony collapse in Berkeley, California
Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates (L) hugs Philip Grant, Consul General of Ireland to the Western United States, following a wreath-laying ceremony at the scene of a 4th-story apartment building balcony collapse in Berkeley
Workmen examine the damage at the scene of the balcony collapse in Berkeley, California
Two grief-stricken Irish students, who say they knew the victims, look on as sheriff’s deputies move the body of a friend who died in the Berkeley balcony collapse.
Click to see a bigger version of the graphic
Police hold up sheets as medical staff take away the bodies of the dead students at the Library Gardens apartment complex in Berkeley.
Stunned onlookers at the scene of the tragedy
Olivia Burke
Lorcán Miller
Eimear Walsh
Eoghan Culligan
Ashley Donohoe
Niccolai Schuster

Rotted wooden beams are the likely cause of the Berkeley balcony collapse that killed six students, the US city's mayor has signalled.

Tom Bates said initial findings by investigators suggested the wood was not properly caulked and sealed when the building was being constructed. It is believed the supports were damaged by moisture as a result.

"More than likely, it was caused by rain and water damage that was caused to the support beams," the mayor said.

READ MORE: Death balcony a 'decorative feature' put in by developers

Although he said it was "obviously a bad idea" for 13 people to be on the fourth floor balcony at one time, he stressed he was not blaming the victims.

READ MORE: New York Times 'apologise' for its coverage of Berkeley tragedy which has been slammed as 'disgraceful'

The city chief made his remarks after the first groups of parents arrived in San Francisco overnight to begin the unenviable task of visiting hospitals and mortuaries where their sons and daughters lie.

READ MORE: Grieving relatives arrive after six students die on horror balcony crash

The victims - five from Ireland and one from California - plunged to their deaths from the fourth-floor apartment at Library Gardens in the university city's Kittredge Street.

READ MORE: Minister Jimmy Deenihan heads to US 'as a show of solidarity'

They were among around 40 people attending a 21st birthday party in the early hours of Tuesday.

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

splash-faces.jpg

The victims of the Berkeley balcony collapse

As well as the six killed, seven were seriously hurt, with two of them fighting for their lives.

READ MORE: Tears, shock and devastation as students and locals unite in grief

Another balcony at the apartment complex has since been deemed "structurally unsafe" and a "collapse hazard". The owners have been ordered to demolish it.

Two other balconies were sealed off or "red-tagged" as tests continue.

READ MORE: Response: 'A balcony is broke, at least 10 fell' - 911 call

A Government minister has travelled to the US to give first hand support to the grieving families.

Jimmy Deenihan, responsible for diaspora affairs, was sent to San Francisco in a sign of solidarity.

Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan said concerns were also turning to the impact the trauma would have on those who survived the accident and those who witnessed it.

"We are also conscious that many Irish students were not physically injured, but were left deeply shocked and saddened by the loss of friends and classmates in this terrible accident," he said.

Seven people remain in hospital in California.

READ MORE: 'It was just like a big earthquake', says witness on panic and terror at scene

The close connections between all the dead and injured - friendships which spanned south Dublin suburbs, old school links and university classes - prompted a raw outpouring of grief at home.

The dead were Ashley Donohoe, 22, an Irish-American from Rohnert Park, a city north of San Francisco, and her 21-year-old cousin Eimear Walsh, from Foxrock, south Dublin.

READ MORE: Student's view: We work hard and party but news of tragedy so close to us was shocking

Ms Walsh studied medicine at University College Dublin (UCD), as did Lorcan Miller, also from south Dublin who was described by former teachers at St Andrew's College Booterstown as an exceptional person and perfectly suited to his chosen career as a doctor.

Headmaster Peter Fraser recalled him.

"The one thing speaking to colleagues this morning was the fact that he was positive, engaging, a decent boy who was incredibly talented, but normal, modest and balanced about it all. He was hugely popular," he said.

Niccolai Schuster, from Terenure in the Irish capital, was also at UCD and studying history and politics.

Another link was the death of Olivia Burke, also from south Dublin, and Ms Walsh's friend from their school days in Loreto College Foxrock. She studied at Dun Laoghaire Institute of Art, Design and Technology.

READ MORE: Dail unites to pay tribute to students as President mourns 'tragic loss of life'

Bernadette Prendiville, principal at Loreto, said: "They were just two beautiful students."

Eoghan Culligan, a student at Dublin Institute of Technology, was a passionate gaelic footballer and had gone to St Mary's College in Rathmines, Dublin with Niccolai Schuster.

They were all 21 and in the US on J1 working visas for the summer, a rite of passage for young people at college in Ireland.

Books of condolences were being opened in the Mansion House and St Patrick's Cathedral in Dublin, also in Cork and Galway while an online version on the UCD website was inundated with more than 8,000 messages in a few hours.

The Tricolour flew at half-mast at Government Buildings in Dublin while Ireland's Dail parliament held a minute's silence and suspended normal business as a mark of respect.

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