US & Canada

US balcony collapse: Water damage investigated

Workmen examine the damage at the scene of a 4th-story apartment building balcony collapse in Berkeley, California June 16, 2015. Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The victims were mostly Irish students who were living temporarily in the US

US engineers investigating a balcony collapse in California that killed six people and injured seven others say water damage may have caused the structure to give way.

The incident happened during a 21st birthday party in the early hours of Tuesday in the city of Berkeley.

Authorities said 13 people were on the fourth-floor balcony when it collapsed.

The victims were mostly Irish students who were living temporarily in the US as part of a work exchange programme.

An initial investigation found that the balcony support's wooden beams may not have been sealed properly at the time of construction, Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates said.

"More than likely, it was caused by rain and water damage," Mr Bates said.

Image caption The victims: Top row from left - Ashley Donohoe, Eimear Walsh, Olivia Burke. Bottom row from left: Eoghan Culligan, Lorcan Miller and Niccolai Schuster

The victims

  • Ashley Donohoe, 22
  • Olivia Burke, 21
  • Eoghan Culligan, 21
  • Niccolai Schuster, 21
  • Lorcan Miller, 21
  • Eimear Walsh, 21

Read more: Tributes to Berkeley balcony victims

However, he later stressed that this was not an official conclusion and that an investigation was still under way.

Building inspectors also ordered that two other balconies at the Library Gardens apartment building be demolished, saying they were unsafe and could collapse.

A former city official familiar with the apartment complex told the San Francisco Chronicle that the 5ft by 10ft (1.5m by 3m) balcony was "decorative" and not designed to hold a large number of people.

"This was meant just to be a place where someone could stand out for bit," Carrie Olson told the newspaper. "Not for something like 13 people."

People left flowers and other tributes at the scene on Wednesday as flags on both sides of the Atlantic flew at half-mast.

A memorial service was planned for Wednesday evening in nearby Oakland, with victims' relatives travelling from the Republic of Ireland to California.

Meanwhile, many in the Irish Republic and the US criticised coverage of the story in the New York Times, accusing the newspaper of "victim-blaming".

The newspaper wrote a story about the work-visa programme that some of the victims were on, mentioning "a series of high-profile episodes involving drunken partying and the wrecking of apartments".

The newspaper's public editor said in a blog that many of the complaints were valid. New York Times spokesperson Eileen Murphy said in an email: "It was never our intention to blame the victims and we apologise if the piece left that impression."

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