Balcony collapse in California ‘may have been caused by dry rot’ –

“It appeared to be shredded and darkened and had all the appearance of wood that had been totally compromised by dry rot,” he said.

Friends of the victims stand outside as they survey the scene after a fourth-floor balcony collapsed

“If you had 14 people (…) and they were jumping up and down, you would get a fair amount of deflection, depending on how well the railing was tied back,” St. Onge said. “But if the [wooden supports] were designed even under minimal standards, it should still have held.”

Another engineer who visited the scene on Tuesday afternoon, Darrick Hom, president of the Structural Engineers Association of Northern California, said parts of the wood broke off in inspectors’ hands when they touched it.

“It was decayed. They were touching it with their hand and pieces were coming off. Obviously, if you touch a wood beam on your deck, it should not come off in your hand,” Mr Hom said.

The families of the six students are expected to learn today the early indications of the cause of the accident.

Thirteen were on the balcony when it buckled at around 12.40am local time in the middle of a female student’s birthday celebrations.

Police are investigating the likelihood some of the students fell while trying to save those on the balcony as it gave way.

The dead were named by authorities as Niccolai Schuster, 21, Eoghan Culligan, 21, Eimear Walsh, 21, Lorcan Miller, 21, Olivia Burke, 21, and Ashley Donohoe, 22.

Ms Donohoe and Ms Burke were cousins. Ms Donohoe was an Irish-American from California while the others were all from Ireland and spending the summer working in the US.

The victims came from affluent areas of Terenure, Rathfarnham and Foxrock in the suburbs of Dublin.

Tributes poured out on social media and a family friend described Mr Miller as an intelligent, polite and all-round lovely young man

Mr Culligan’s girlfrend Sarah McCarthy last night said she is devastated by the tragedy.

Writing on her Facebook page, she said: “No words can’t begin to describe the loss I feel, i’ve lost the love of my life and my best friend. My heart goes out to everyone who lost their loved ones in this terrible tragedy.

“See you on the other side my boy, Love you forever”.

The father of one woman who survived the 40ft fall said it was a “miracle” his daughter, Clodagh, was alive following the balcony collapse.

Niall Cogley said the 21-year-old psychology student was being treated in hospital for broken bones.

Berkeley is a popular destination for young Irish people visiting the US on summer J-1 visas and families in Ireland spent the day desperately trying to make contact with loved ones in California.

Top left – right: Eimear Walsh, 21, Eoghan Culligan, 21, and Olivia Burke, 21. Bottom left – right: Lorcan Miller, 21, Ashley Donohoe, 22 and Niccolai Schuster, 21.

The tragedy led to an outpouring of grief in Ireland and Enda Kenny, the prime minister, told the Irish parliament he was “shocked and saddened” by the news.

“My heart breaks for parents who have lost children this morning and I can only imagine the fear in the hearts of other parents who have children in California this summer as they seek to contact them now,” he said.

Tom Bates, the mayor of Berkeley, called it “a dark, dark day” for the city and the first parents of those killed were expected to arrive in California on Tuesday night.

Authorities said there was no evidence of criminal behaviour but did not rule out the possibility of charges if it was found that the building owners had failed to meet safety standards.

Police received a noise complaint about the party at midnight but did not respond to the call because there were reports of a shooting in the area at the same time.

Police described a “very disturbing scene” where plastic cups and bits of clothing from the interrupted party lay next to broken pieces of masonry in front of the Library Gardens apartment building on Berkeley’s Kittredge Street.

It is believed the balcony, which was on the fifth floor, collapsed first on to the balcony below and then onto the path (@StephChuang)

The building, which is a short walk from the prestigious University of California Berkeley, was built in 2006 and authorities are investigating how the balcony could have snapped off.

Dan Sullivan, an Irish student who lives in the building, told the Bay Area News there was a crash shortly before 1am. “We just heard a bang in the middle of night and shouting,” he said.

Jerry Robinson, a man who lives nearby, said his car was flagged down by two hysterical young people trying to get to the hospital to check on their friends at around 1am.

“They were friends of the people who were on the balcony. A couple of the women did not have shoes. One of the women had blood on her knees,” he said.

High school student Jason Biswas’ family nearby was awakened by the noise.

“They thought there was an earthquake, but then we looked out the window and saw seven or eight people on the ground,” the 16-year-old said. “There were piles of blood everywhere.”

Charlie Flanagan, the Irish foreign minister, said the loved ones of those killed in the tragedy had been contacted. Family members are expected to fly from Ireland to bring their bodies home.

Around 7,000 Irish students arrive in the US every year using the J-1 visa and around 2,500 of them head to California for its good weather and strong academics, the Irish embassy said.

It is not uncommon for a large number of students to live in a single flat to try to save money on rent.

Other Irish students and American sympathisers left flowers and cards near the scene of the accident.

Berkeley police say several people are dead and others injured after a balcony fell shortly before 1am

Kevin O’Malley, the US ambassador to Dublin, said his thoughts and prayers were with the families and that the US would do “whatever we can to assist”.

An emergency phone line for those concerned about a loved one has been set up at +353 1 418 0200.

An injured person is placed into an ambulance at the scene of the balcony collapse (Demotix)

Philip Grant, the Irish consul general in San Francisco, said the Irish community on the west coast had “frozen in shock and disbelief”. “There are very few of us have who have been untouched by this tragedy,” he said.

Kevin O’Malley, the US ambassador to Dublin, said his thoughts and prayers were with the families and that the US would do “whatever we can to assist.


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