California balcony collapse kills 5 Irish students

Associated Press

Berkeley, Calif. — A fourth-floor balcony of a San Francisco Bay Area apartment building collapsed early Tuesday, killing five Irish students and leaving eight other people injured, officials said.

Irish Foreign Minister Charlie Flanagan told reporters in Dublin that all five of the dead were in the U.S. on temporary visas. He said a 21st birthday party was underway in the building in the university town of Berkeley at the time of the accident.

Many of the wounded have critical, life-threatening injuries, said Officer Jennifer Coats, a Berkeley police spokeswoman.

Police received a call about the incident shortly before 1 a.m. PDT Tuesday, and officers arrived to find that the balcony on the fourth floor of the building on Kittredge Street had disintegrated.

Television footage of the scene showed that the fourth-floor balcony fell onto the one on the third floor.

The building in the heart of downtown Berkeley has apartments in the upper floors and retail shops at ground level. The walkable neighborhood just blocks from the University of California, Berkeley, is dotted with museums, restaurants, coffee shops and chain stores.

Ireland’s Department of Foreign Affairs said it was trying to contact families of the victims and could not give details of their identities. Four died at the scene and one in a hospital, Flanagan said.

Irish President Michael D. Higgins said in a statement that he had “heard with the greatest sadness of the terrible loss of life of young Irish people and the critical injury of others in Berkeley, California today. My heart goes out to the families and loved one’s of all those involved.”

Coats said officers are still investigating and she doesn’t have any information on how the collapse occurred or what the people were doing on the structure at the time.

“We don’t know what happened. Officers on scene are talking with people,” she said.

Police were working with fire officials and building inspectors to try to determine what caused the accident, Coats said.

She said she also didn’t have information on the identities of the victims.

“We don’t have a lot of specific detail at this point because they (investigators) are still trying to work through it all,” she said in a telephone interview.

Flanagan said the Irish consul general in San Francisco would be providing assistance to those affected.