BERKELEY (KPIX) — A balcony at a Berkeley apartment complex collapsed early Tuesday morning, killing six people and wounding at least seven who plunged from several stories up.
Irish Foreign Minister Charlie Flanagan told reporters in Dublin that at least five of those killed were Irish citizens in the U.S. on temporary visas. He said a 21st birthday party was underway in the building at the time of the accident.
It happened just before 1 a.m. on a fourth floor apartment at the Library Gardens apartment complex at 2020 Kittredge Street, about a block from the UC campus.
Berkeley Fire Department and Berkeley Police responded to treat the wounded and manage traffic through the area.
“It’s a difficult scene,” said Berkeley police spokeswoman Jennifer Coates. “Unfortunately it’s going to be a more difficult day for the family of the victims that were involved in this.”
Many of the wounded have severe and life threatening injuries. Authorities say at least 13 were on the balcony when it gave way. Officials say four of the victims died at the scene and two others at the hospital.
At a news conference in Berkeley Tuesday afternoon, officials released the name of the six victims:
Ashley Donohoe, 22, Ronhert Park
Oliva Burke, 21, Ireland
Eoghan Culligan, 21, Ireland
Niccolai Schuster, 21, Ireland
Lorcan Miller, 21, Ireland
Eimear Walsh, 21, Ireland
In a statement Tuesday morning, Flanahan said:
“It is with great sadness that I confirm that a number of young Irish citizens have lost their lives while a number of others have been seriously injured following the collapse of a balcony in Berkeley, California earlier today. My heart goes out to the families and loved ones of the deceased and those who have been injured in this appalling accident.
Our Consul General in San Francisco is in close contact with the authorities and will be providing assistance to those affected on the ground. It is too early to know the full extent of this dreadful accident but I have opened my Department’s Consular
Crisis Centre and activated our emergency response line so we can provide assistance and guidance to the families of those affected and to others who have concerns. Anyone with concerns about friends or family in the region, should call the Emergency Consular Response Team on +353 1 418 0200.”
A spokesperson at Sutter Health’s Eden Medical Center in Castro Valley confirms they received four patients — three males and one female. Highland Hospital in Oakland said they’re treating two female and one male patient, and John Muir Hospital in Walnut Creek reports they’ve received two male patients.
Witness Gerald Robinson was in this area after seeing a movie when he saw a couple of people in their early 20’s asked him for a ride to Highland Hospital so they could check on their friends.
VIDEO: Berkeley Balcony Collapse Victims Treated For Trauma At Local Hospitals
“A lot of kids don’t have shoes because they weren’t allowed back in to their apartment,” he said. “A couple of the women are running around barefoot and a couple have blood on their knees and some of them have blood on their shirts. They’re all trying to figure out who was hurt and how bad and where are they.”
Owen Buckly, a student from Ireland working at a restaurant at Fisherman’s Wharf for the summer on a J-1 visa, lives on the third floor of Library Gardens.
“It was a loud crash then sirens, for a couple minutes then a scream,” Buckly said, adding he knew a girl from school who was involved in the accident. “We were looking out window and we saw police and we thought for sure someone was shot, then we came people in downstairs said the balcony collapsed.”
Two Irish citizens asleep in the building said they heard a bang.
“I walked out and I saw rubble on the street and a bunch of Irish students crying,” said Mark Neville, also in the U.S. for the summer under the J-1 visa program.
The federal Summer Work Travel Program, which issues temporary J-1 visas, allows hundreds of Irish university students to spend their summers in Berkeley.
The tragedy was difficult even for experienced police.
“Some of the officers I spoke with said it was quite disturbing,” said Berkeley Officer Byron White. “It’s not every day you see loss of life and particularly so many and so young. It’s not something you forget.”
KPIX reporter Joe Vazquez tweeted a photo of the flag of Dublin draped over the sidewalk memorial for the Irish victims.
Building inspectors are working with police and the fire department to figure out exactly what happened. In the meantime, all balconies at the apartment complex are now red-tagged.
The City of Berkeley has ordered the property owner to immediately remove the failed balcony and to perform a structural assessment of the remaining balconies within 48 hours. The building finished construction in January 2007.
A search of Yelp reviews of the complex shows that many people claiming to be former tenants had complaints about the property or management.
On its website, Library Gardens describes the complex as “the premiere choice for convenient Berkeley apartments. Our beautifully landscaped community is located one block from the University of California, Berkeley campus, steps from the Berkeley Central Library, and a block from BART, AC Transit, shopping, restaurants and entertainment. Whether you need a furnished or unfurnished apartment for one person or for roommates, our community is a great option for Cal rental student housing.”