THE bodies of two Irish students were discovered huddled together in a wardrobe following a horror blaze in Belgium.
Dace Zarina (22), from Longford, and Sara Gibadlo (19), who recently moved to Athenry from Oranmore in Galway, lost their lives in the fire that broke out at 6am in their residence in the city of Leuven yesterday.
Eight other students were rescued from the fire as neighbours risked their lives to help them.
The devastated parents of the two young women flew out to Leuven, which is around 16 miles east of Brussels, last night.
Jaroen Ameel, commandant at Leuven Fire Brigade, said the two girls were not able to find their way out of the fire and they were found huddled together in a wardrobe in a frantic attempt to escape the flames.
He said that it was "a very difficult moment" when the two students were found.
"Two young people who are students who couldn't see a way out," he said.
"It was a very heavy fire. It took us one hour to control, Continued on Page 10
and afterwards the stability of the building was not very good."
Mr Ameel said rescue dogs trained to enter buildings during emergencies helped fire fighters to find the bodies.
"They were hidden in a wardrobe in the corner, to protect themselves from the fire."
The girls, who were Irish nationals, were both second-year students studying for a Bachelor of Business degree in Hotel and Catering Management in the Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology (GMIT).
A spokeswoman for GMIT said students and staff were trying to come to terms with the tragic news. The registrar of GMIT Michael Hannon was in Leuven to meet the families when they arrived last night.
Speaking to the Irish Independent, Cait Noone, the head of GMIT College of Tourism and Arts paid tribute to the girls.
"GMIT is devastated. Dace and Sara were very talented young students. They were both bright, creative young girls. It's a huge loss."
Many of the students' classmates were on placement in other European locations when they were informed of the tragedy. Leuven Police Commissioner Marc Vranckx said the eight students who escaped from the fire were shocked and a couple were treated for smoke inhalation.
The students, six of whom are understood to be Irish, were brought to hospital initially, and last night were being looked after in the Irish college, according to the Irish ambassador to Belgium Eamonn MacAodha.
Three of the students were studying hospitality management at the Dublin Institute of Technology, Cathal Brugha Street.
Both police and fire services have confirmed that the building in which the two women died had not been formally registered as a student residence.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny offered his deepest sympathies to the families of the two students.
"It is always sad when something like this happens, especially with two young people," said Mr Kenny.
Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore also extended his sympathies and said: "My thoughts are also with their fellow students at the Institute for Ireland, who have been through a terrible ordeal."
Meanwhile, warm tributes have been paid to the two girls by their former schools.
Dace's secondary school principal Paul Costello said the town of Longford is in shock. He said she was "a lovely girl and very popular".
Sara had attended Calasanctious College in Oranmore. Principal Mary Nihill said: "Sara was a very gentle and beautiful young girl who was very kind. She left a very good impression on everyone in the school."
Sara had been living with her parents, Josef and Malgosia, twin brother Slawomir and sister Magda (15) in Oranmore, just outside Galway city, for several years. Her inconsolable parents had initial difficulties in booking a Ryanair flight because it was not possible to book online within the airline's stipulated four-hour window.
Local Senator Fidelma Healy Eames learnt of the couple's difficulties and contacted both the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Polish Embassy in Dublin. Officials at the Embassy immediately contacted Dublin airport and the Ryanair office at the airport was contacted internally and the company immediately offered free flights.