Saturday 10 December 2016

Picture shows remaining wooden 'stumps' of balcony following Berkeley tragedy

Officials are considering dry rot or weather damage as possible causes of incident that killed six and left seven others seriously injured

Published 17/06/2015 | 17:45

The remaining wood from the Library Gardens apartment building balcony that collapsed is shown in Berkeley, Calif. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
The remaining wood from the Library Gardens apartment building balcony that collapsed is shown in Berkeley, Calif. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
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
Lorcan Miller took key positions in the school's Model United Nations St Andrew's College/PA Wire (undated photo)
Eimear Walsh
Eoghan Culligan
Ashley Donohoe
Niccolai Schuster
The remains of the damaged balcony are removed from the 4th-story apartment building in Berkeley. Photo: Reuters

Investigators have begun trying to pinpoint the cause of a balcony collapse that left six people dead and seven seriously injured.

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The accident happened early on Tuesday, during a 21st birthday party involving a group of young Irish and Irish-American men and women spending the summer in California.

"My heart breaks for the parents," Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny said from Dublin.

The small fifth-floor balcony was crammed with 13 people when it broke loose from an apartment building, dumping party goers about 50 feet onto the pavement.

At least one engineer said the balcony may have been overloaded.

Five 21-year-old students from Ireland were killed, along with a young woman from California.

Graphic illustrates what may have happened in the Berkeley balcony collapse
Graphic illustrates what may have happened in the Berkeley balcony collapse

Read more: Berkeley tragedy: 'It is the worst day of my life'

Meanwhile, memorials took shape on the ground below the fallen balcony, with people leaving flowers, a pack of cigarettes, a photo, condolence notes and an Irish flag.

The Irish students were in the country on what are known as J1 visas, which enable young people to work and travel in the US over the summer.

The San Francisco Bay Area is especially popular with Irish students, about 700 of whom are working and playing here this summer, according to the consul general. Many work at Fisherman's Wharf and other tourist sites.

"For many of my countrymen, this is a favourite experience, and to have this happen at the start of the season has left us frozen in shock," said Philip Grant, Ireland's San Francisco-based consul general.

The dead were identified as Ashley Donohoe, 22, of Rohnert Park, California, and Olivia Burke, Eoghan Culligan, Niccolai Schuster, Lorcan Miller and Eimear Walsh, all of Ireland.

Read more: New York Times 'apologises' for its coverage of Berkeley tragedy which has been slammed as 'disgraceful'

Investigators are expected to look at such things as whether the balcony was built to code, whether it was overloaded and whether rain or other weather weakened it.

Berkeley officials said the building code at the time of the apartment house's construction in 2007 required the balcony to hold at least 60 pounds per square foot. That requirement has since been raised to 100 pounds.

City spokesman Matthai Chakko said officials have not measured the balcony and how much weight it was built to bear.

Mr Chakko also said there is no city requirement to post a weight restriction for apartment balconies.

Grace Kang, a structural engineer and spokeswoman for Pacific Earthquake Engineering Research Centre at Berkeley, said the balcony looked to her to be 4x6 feet, or 24 square feet.

That would mean it should have been able to bear at least 1,440 pounds. Thirteen normal-size adults would weigh more than that.

"They were packed like sardines, and then they were moving," she said. When people are moving, it "may further exacerbate" the strain.

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