Saturday 3 December 2016

Berkeley Tragedy: US investigators confirm balcony collapsed due to 'dry rot'

Published 23/06/2015 | 19:40

The remnants of the Library Gardens apartment building balcony that collapsed. Inset: The six students who lost their lives in the tragic accident, top left to bottom right: Lorcan Miller, Eoghan Culligan, Nick Schuster, Ashley Donohoe, Eimear Walsh and Olivia Burke
The remnants of the Library Gardens apartment building balcony that collapsed. Inset: The six students who lost their lives in the tragic accident, top left to bottom right: Lorcan Miller, Eoghan Culligan, Nick Schuster, Ashley Donohoe, Eimear Walsh and Olivia Burke
The remains of the balcony at the Library Gardens apartment complex showing the degraded timber beams

US investigators have confirmed that a balcony from which six students fell to their deaths collapsed due to dry rot.

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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 remains of the balcony at the Library Gardens apartment complex showing the degraded timber beams
The remains of the balcony at the Library Gardens apartment complex showing the degraded timber beams
A vigil for the students in Berkeley
Young people console each other earlier this week at a memorial for those who lost their lives after the balcony gave way in Berkeley, California
Members of the public queue to sign a book of condolence at Mansion House in Dublin for those killed in the Berkeley balcony collapse. Niall Carson/PA Wire

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.

Read more here: Final farewell to balcony victims

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.

Olivia Burke
Olivia Burke

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."

Read more here: ' Berkeley tragedy: Heartbroken dad of Eimear Walsh pays tribute to 'a beautiful person, a wonderful daughter and sister'

Eimear Walsh
Eimear Walsh

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.

Lorcán Miller
Lorcán Miller

"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."

Niccolai Schuster
Niccolai Schuster

Read more here: Final farewell to balcony victims  

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.

Ashley Donohoe - Age: 22 From: Santa Rosa, California School: Rancho Cotate High School Studying: Biology in Sonoma State Univ.
Ashley Donohoe - Age: 22 From: Santa Rosa, California School: Rancho Cotate High School Studying: Biology in Sonoma State Univ.

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.

Eoghan Culligan
Eoghan Culligan
Eoghan Culligan

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.

Read more here: Berkeley tragedy: Heartbroken dad of Eimear Walsh pays tribute to 'a beautiful person, a wonderful daughter and sister'  

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.

Mourners at the funeral of Berkeley tragedy victim Eoghan Culligan at the Church of the Annunciation, Rathfarnham.
Mourners at the funeral of Berkeley tragedy victim Eoghan Culligan at the Church of the Annunciation, Rathfarnham.
Mourners at the funeral of Berkeley tragedy victim Eoghan Culligan at the Church of the Annunciation, Rathfarnham.

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