Building where balcony collapsed just eight years old

Ireland government officials and Irish citizens living in the Bay Area are reacting with shock and sadness following the collapse of a Berkeley apartment complex balcony that killed six people and injured seven others early Tuesday morning.

Berkeley police received a report of the incident at 12:41 a.m. at 2020 Kittredge St., the location of the Library Gardens apartment complex.

Among the dead were a number of Irish citizens, according to Ireland foreign affairs officials.

Charlies Flanagan, Ireland’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade, confirmed in a statement 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. … My heart goes out to the families and loved ones of the deceased and those who have been injured in this appalling accident.”

Police are working with city building inspectors to figure out what caused the collapse, Berkeley police spokeswoman Jennifer Coats said.

Construction finished in January 2007 on the building, which has three other similar balconies that have been red-tagged, city spokesman Matthai Chakko said.

Berkeley officials have ordered the property owners to immediately remove the collapsed balcony and do a structural assessment of the remaining balconies within 48 hours, Chakko said:

“We need to make sure that new buildings, which this was, are built with qualified labor using the best materials and using strong safety standards.”

At least some of the victims appear to have been in the U.S. on a J-1 visa, which allows visitors to participate in work and study-based exchange programs sponsored by approved organizations.

Irish consulate officials in San Francisco said they are working with local authorities to help identify the victims and make contact with their families.

The consulate has received hundreds of phone calls from worried families in Ireland attempting to check on students staying in the Berkeley area, officials said.

The consulate is urging students in the area on a J-1 visa to contact their families directly, and also are asking families that have been able to contact their loved ones to let the consulate know.

An emergency response line to assist affected families is available at 011-353-1418-0200.

USIT, an Irish company specializing in work and study visa programs, issued a statement today saying it was working with the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs to respond to the incident:

“USIT … would like to express their deepest sympathy and support to all of our J-1 students, their families and their friends in the U.S. and in Ireland who have been involved in this truly tragic situation in Berkeley. … This is a devastating experience for everyone.”

Breffni-Nic Eochaigh, who is from Ireland but lives in Oakland and works as a bartender in San Francisco, brought flowers to the scene of the balcony collapse to support her fellow Irish citizens.

“It’s terrible when you don’t have your family around” when a tragedy like this happens, Eochaigh said:

“We’re here to support them because they’re hurting.”

Berkeley City Councilman Jesse Arreguin, who represents the neighborhood where the collapse occurred, said in a statement:

“I look forward to reading the investigative report from fire and building officials to learn what the real causes were and to make sure this does not happen in the future.”

Arreguin’s aide Stefan Elgstrand said he lives a block away from 2020 Kittredge St. and heard “nonstop sirens” and saw a line of ambulances waiting to take victims away this morning.

Of the seven people who survived the collapse, two are young men who are at John Muir Medical Center in Walnut Creek. One is in critical condition while the other is in serious condition, hospital spokesman Ben Drew said.

The other five injured victims were taken to Highland Hospital in Oakland and Eden Medical Center in Castro Valley and information on their conditions was not immediately available this morning. The identities of the six people who died are not yet being released.

Employees at Library Gardens did not immediately respond to requests to comment on the collapse this morning.

A news conference by Berkeley and Alameda County officials is planned for 1 p.m. today behind Berkeley City Hall at 2180 Milvia St.