Tuesday 20 March 2018

'Young people take risks ... standing out on a balcony isn't one'

Visitors at a memorial near the scene of the balcony collapse
Visitors at a memorial near the scene of the balcony collapse
Visitors react as they visit a memorial near the scene of a 4th-story apartment building balcony collapse in Berkeley, California
Toni Mikulka places flowers at a makeshift memorial for victims of the balcony collapse in Berkeley
Liam Kelly

Liam Kelly

Even a new morning in Berkeley couldn't break the darkness. Just 36 hours had elapsed since the disaster, and the daylight brought new visitors and new tributes to 2020 Kittredge Street.

Inside the cordoned-off area, a crew of construction engineers manoeuvred a mobile gantry to the third floor balcony, the one beneath the structure that gave way on Monday night.

They were there to process the removal of the balcony under order from city authorities and the building owners had engaged a crew to carry out the instruction.

Cables from a huge crane had secured the metal section of that balcony.

Carefully, the workmen checked out the floor section as they prepared to take it down, while all the time a crowd gathered, looking on in disbelief.

The tragedy has devastated Irish people, but its effects have been felt by other nationalities.

Yuri Vaughn, a native of Japan, who lives in El Cerrito, seven miles north of Berkeley, was visibly emotional.

"My children are just grown and they are finished their education and they are focusing on settling into their life. These people came here so young and so full of dreams and it's just terribly sad," she said.

She was accompanied by her American husband of 37 years, Curtis, in paying respects to the dead and injured.

American graduate student Sari Kosdon (25) has been staying on the opposite side of the Library Gardens apartments since last August.

She did not hear the noise of the party that was taking place, or of the accident, but was woken by the police helicopters that hovered overhead for more than an hour once emergency services arrived. "It's terrifying that this can happen and it scares me that this building is only 10 years old and I'm living in a structure that may be unsafe," she said.

"I see these kids all the time, and they're just so happy to respond to this country and to the opportunity, and they're here two weeks or three weeks. I feel, as a country, we failed them and that's really sad," she said. Ms Kosdon was also scathing about a letter tenants received from the management company, Greystar, after the accident.

"They sent us a letter. Actually, I was really disappointed in the letter because it started off saying that the news reported this instead of taking ownership of the accident.

"It just said that they will investigate and they're going to find out (what happened) and they're going to hire people and stuff like that.

"The management haven't said anything, they didn't say how long the process is going to take," she said.

A woman born in Waterville, Co Kerry, who is to be ordained as a pastor in the church of the Congregation for Reconciliation, joined the procession of sympathisers.

"My personal feeling is one of deep sadness. It was one of my friends in the homeless community who actually told me, and he told me with tears in his eyes," said Ms Shulz, who will leave San Francisco tomorrow for Dayton, Ohio, where she will take up her ministry.

Ms Shulz has lived in the USA since 1991 and spent two periods in Berkeley, the most recent being the last four years as a seminarian.

Ms Shulz gave her perspective on the 'risks' involved for the young students who come to spend a summer on J1 visas.

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

"It is an exploratory period. You're away from home.

"You get to do things and take risks that you might not normally, but I do think that standing on a balcony is not something that people think of as being risky, no matter what the context is.

"To be outside with friends on a balcony is not something you anticipate as having such consequences," she said.

Irish Independent

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