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article imageCalifornia balcony in fatal collapse was dangerously overcrowded

By Nathan Salant     Jun 18, 2015 in World
Berkeley - An apartment balcony that collapsed near the University of California campus here, killing six young people at a birthday party, was overcrowded well beyond its structural limits Tuesday when it gave way, Berkeley officials have acknowledged.
Six people were killed and seven injured early Tuesday when the fifth-floor balcony collapsed at a birthday party for one of the young people, several believed to be students in Ireland.
The victims, who fell 50 feet to the sidewalk, were visiting from Ireland as part of a summer program or were Irish-American, according to the Associated Press.
Relatives and friends of the victims crowded into the city north of Oakland, Calif., as investigators sought to figure out how the balcony of a recently constructed building could have collapsed.
"My heart breaks for the parents," Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny said from Dublin.
The dead were identified as Ashley Donohoe, 22, of Rohnert Park, Calif., and Olivia Burke, Eoghan Culligan, Niccolai Schuster, Lorcan Miller and Eimear Walsh of Ireland.
The accident happened after more than a dozen people crammed onto a tiny balcony at the Library Gardens apartment complex on Kitttredge Street at around 12:30 a.m. Tuesday, during a 21st birthday party for a member of the visiting group.
Partygoers on the balcony fell 50 feet to the sidewalk below.
The complex opened in 2007, the AP said.
One construction engineer told the AP that the balcony appeared overloaded.
The accident caused shock and grief in Berkeley and across the Atlantic Ocean in Ireland itself, where flags flew at half-staff Wednesday and parliament suspended normal business.
The San Francisco Bay Area has always been popular with students from Ireland, and 700 are estimated to be staying this summer, many working at Fisherman's Wharf, the AP said.
"For many of my countrymen, this is a favorite experience, and to have this happen at the start of the season has left us frozen in shock," said Philip Grant, Ireland's San Francisco-based consul general.
Berkeley city officials have opened an investigation that is expected to examine whether the balcony was built to code, whether it was overloaded and whether it had been weakened by exposure to the outdoors.
California law does not require inspections after a building is cleared to open unless it undergoes major remodeling, the AP said citing the state Department of General Services.
Berkeley officials said the balcony was required to be able to support 60 pounds per square inch when it was constructed but that requirement was raised to 100 pounds per square inch.
City spokesman Matthai Chakko sold the AP that officials had not yet measured the balcony and that building owners were not required to post occupancy restrictions on apartment balconies.
But a structural engineer in Berkeley said the balcony did not appear to be strong enough for the load it was carrying with more than a dozen students.
"They were packed like sardines, and then they were moving," Grace Kang of the Pacific Earthquake Engineering Research Center told the AP.
People moving about "may further exacerbate" the force of the load, Kang said.
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