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Dry rot may be cause of US balcony tragedy, say experts

Workmen examine the damage at the scene of a fourth-storey apartment building balcony collapse in Berkeley, California June 16, 2015. — Reuters picWorkmen examine the damage at the scene of a fourth-storey apartment building balcony collapse in Berkeley, California June 16, 2015. — Reuters picLOS ANGELES, June 18 — Dry rot and overcrowding could be responsible for the collapse of a balcony at a California apartment building, sending six young Irish nationals plummeting to their deaths, media reports said yesterday.

At least seven other people were injured in the accident in Berkeley, which took place in the early hours of Tuesday during a 21st birthday party.

“It appears to be a classic case of dry rot, meaning water intruded into the building (and) rotted the wood” supporting the balcony, civil and structural engineer Gene St Onge, who saw the damage, told The Los Angeles Times.

Five Irish citizens and an Irish-American woman, all aged either 21 or 22, died when the balcony buckled at a building two blocks from the University of California campus in the city.

The families of those involved were on their way to Berkeley.

The San Francisco Chronicle cited a member of the city committee that approved the construction of the building as saying the balconies were intended to be decorative, and not a space for entertaining groups of people.

“This was meant just to be a place where someone could stand out for a bit, get a breath of fresh air. Not for something like 13 people,” said Carrie Olson, whose 14-year stint on the Berkeley Design Review Committee ended last year.

A spokesman for the city, Matthai Chakko, told the Los Angeles Times that an investigation was under way and that inspectors were looking into the state of the building, which was only finished in 2007.

Results would not be available for several days, he said.

The Irish national flag flew at half-mast and parliament was suspended yesterday in tribute to the six victims.

The students were all on the J1 work-study summer visa programme, which allows them to teach, study, conduct research and work legally during their stay in the United States.

About 8,000 Irish students applied for the J1 programme this year, with California the most popular destination. — AFP

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