Balcony was added to building as decorative afterthought, says city

A balcony that collapsed, killing six students, was only added to the side of an apartment block to make the building look nicer, it emerged in documents released by the city of Berkeley.

Balcony was added to building as decorative afterthought, says city

The rotten wood supports designed to hold the balcony in place were supposed to be properly protected from water penetration, according to the design plans for the complex, the largest residential block ever built in the Californian city.

Investigators are probing what caused the balcony on Kittredge St to collapse and flip, sending 13 young people in to the street below, killing the five Irish J1 students and one Irish-American and injuring seven others, two of whom remain in a critical condition in hospital.

As the investigation continues, the families were last night preparing to take their loved ones home. Four of the bodies will land in Dublin tomorrow morning.

Last night, the parents and siblings of Eoghan Culligan, whose girlfriend Sarah McCarthy is also in the US, Niccolai Schuster, Lorcan Miller, and Eimear Walsh saw their loved ones for the first time since the tragedy, laid out in open caskets at a church in Oakland, near Berkeley.

It was collectively decided, and wanted, that members of the families would meet together before viewing the bodies, said Philip Grant, the seemingly tireless Irish consul general in San Francisco, a constant organising presence in Berkeley these last few days.

Separate arrangements were being made for Olivia Burke and her cousin, Ashley Donohue, who will be buried in her home city today. Several experts have already identified the cause of the collapse — dry rot caused by water seeping into the wood, which was not properly protected, either because of a defect in the material or by mistakes made in the application.

The city of Berkeley is still investigating the cause of the collapse and will look at everything, from the design to the construction to maintenance after the building opened, city spokesman Matthai Chakko said.

A second balcony — below the one that collapsed — was removed this week but its wood supports were clearly not in the same state of disrepair. Nonetheless, city officials ordered the owners to take that one down after saying it was unsafe and in danger of collapse.

The documents reveal that the balconies were not even part of the original design of the sprawling Library Gardens complex but were added later after the city Design Review Committee ruled the front be changed to make it more “aesthetically pleasing”.

The students who gathered this week for the 21st birthday part of Aoife Beary, one of the injured, were oblivious to the fact that the wood supports below the seemingly solid concrete balcony — designed to hold 1,360kg, far more than the collective weight of the students — had rotted and crumbled.

Final plans were being made last night to bring home the bodies of Eoghan, his best friend Niccolai, Lorcan, and Eimear, all 21 and from south Dublin.

Their relatives will accompany the bodies on an Aer Lingus flight from San Francisco later today , arriving in Dublin Airport at 11.30am tomorrow. Funeral plans are being finalised.

The body of the fifth J1 student, Olivia Burke, will be flown home separately.

A joint service, a memorial for Olivia, also 21, and funeral for her cousin, Ashley Donohue, 22, is being held this morning in Ashley’s home city of Rohnert Park, 80km north of San Francisco.

Olivia’s body, accompanied by members of both families, will then be flown home for a funeral service and burial.

Two of the seven injured, Aoife Beary and Hannah Waters, remain in a critical condition in intensive care, and their injuries have been described as life-changing. Their parents have maintained a round-the-clock vigil at at Highland Hospital in Oakland. The others survivors are recovering well.

Minister for the Diaspora Jimmy Deenihan visited Jack Halpin and Conor Flynn at the John Muir Medical Centre in Walnut Creek yesterday. Niall Murray, Clodagh Cogley, and Sean Fahey are being treated elsewhere.

Many of the friends will make the trip home for the funerals. One close friend of those who died, who was at the party, lives in the block and travelled over with two of those who died, told the Irish Examiner it is likely he will go home and not return.

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