BERKELEY, Calif. (AP) — The balcony collapse that killed six college students appears to have been caused by rotted wooden beams, Berkeley’s mayor said Wednesday as the victims’ heartbroken loved ones began arriving in the U.S. from Ireland.
Mayor Tom Bates said investigators believe the wood was not caulked and sealed properly at the time of construction and was damaged by moisture as a result.
The crowded fifth-floor balcony broke off an apartment building during a 21st-birthday party early Tuesday held by visiting Irish college students, dumping 13 people 50 feet onto the pavement. In addition to the six killed, seven were seriously hurt.
“More than likely it was caused by rain and caused by water damage that was done to the support beams,” Bates said. He said it was “obviously a bad idea” for 13 people to crowd onto such a small balcony — it was about 40 square feet — but added that he is not blaming the victims.
Later in the day, however, the mayor said the water-damage theory was speculation on his part and not an official conclusion, and that the investigation is still underway.
Building inspectors also determined another balcony at the Library Gardens apartment complex was “structurally unsafe and presented a collapse hazard.” They ordered it demolished.
Two other balconies were red-tagged, or declared off-limits, at the apartments, which were completed in 2007 and are popular among visiting students and those at the nearby University of California, Berkeley.
Across the Atlantic, flags flew at half-staff around Ireland and the country’s parliament suspended normal business as the nation mourned the dead: Ashley Donohoe, 22, of Rohnert Park, California, and Olivia Burke, Eoghan Culligan, Niccolai Schuster, Lorcan Miller and Eimear Walsh, all 21-year-olds from Ireland.
The Irish students were working and traveling in the U.S. over the summer, a rite of passage enjoyed by thousands of their countrymen.
Meanwhile, grieving family members began arriving in the U.S. Wednesday afternoon. Tey declined to speak with the media and were met at San Francisco International Airport by a priest and representatives from the Irish Consulate.
They left the airport in a van and headed to an unknown location. A Mass was planned for Wednesday evening in Oakland for the victims.