Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Berkeley Balcony Collapse

"The news has dominated the airwaves and informal conversations in Ireland since the severity of the accident, which took place early Tuesday in Berkeley became apparent."

"6 die in balcony collapse in Calif.; 5 of the victims were students from Ireland" by Kristin J. Bender and Martha Mendoza Associated Press  June 16, 2015

BERKELEY, Calif. — A 21st-birthday party thrown by a group of visiting Irish college students turned tragic early Tuesday when the fifth-floor balcony they were crammed onto collapsed with a sharp crack, spilling them about 50 feet onto the pavement. Six people were killed and seven seriously injured.

Officials were working to figure out why the small balcony broke loose from the stucco apartment building a couple of blocks from the campus of the University of California, Berkeley. But one structural engineer said it may have been overloaded if, as city officials said, it was holding 13 people.

Silvia Biswas, who lives on the floor below, said noise from the party was so loud, she opened her window and yelled to keep it down. When she later was awakened by what felt like an earthquake, she looked out the window and saw bodies, including a motionless young woman on the street.

‘‘I wouldn’t have screamed at them if I had known they were going to die,’’ she said.

My printed copy quotes a Jason Biswas and I'm not going to do a verbatim comparison today. That trend is taking up too much of my time.

Five of the dead were 21-year-olds from Ireland who were in the country on J-1 visas that enable young people to work and travel in the US over the summer, while the sixth victim was from California, authorities said.

The accident brought an outpouring of grief in Ireland from the prime minister on down, with the country’s consul general in San Francisco calling it a ‘‘national tragedy.’’

Police had received a complaint about a loud party in the apartment about an hour before the accident but had not yet arrived when the metal-rail balcony gave way just after 12:30 a.m., spokesman Byron White said.

They are as bad as Detroit!?!

It landed on the fourth-floor balcony just beneath it, leaving the pavement strewn with rubble and the red plastic cups that are practically standard at college parties.

The dead were identified as Ashley Donohoe, 22, of Rohnert Park, Calif.; and Olivia Burke, Eoghan Culligan, Niccolai Schuster, Lorcan Miller, and Eimear Walsh, all from Ireland. The Irish students attended various colleges in Dublin. Some worked at San Francisco’s Pier 39.

Walsh and Burke were hostesses at Haza Zen, a Japanese restaurant at Pier 39, said restaurant owner Alvin Louie.

‘‘They were great young kids, very enthusiastic, full of energy,’’ Louis said. ‘‘We’re all devastated.’’

My printed quote was from a Dan Sullivan.

The US government’s J-1 program brings 100,000 college students to the country every year, many landing jobs at resorts, summer camps, and other attractions. About 700 of them are working and playing in the San Francisco Bay Area this summer, according to Ireland’s Consul General Philip Grant.

Not like Americans need jobs or anything.

Sinead Loftus, 21, who attends Trinity College Dublin and is living this summer in a different apartment in Berkeley, said Berkeley is ‘‘the Irish hub.’’

‘‘It’s student-friendly, it’s warm, and it’s a lot cheaper than San Francisco,’’ she said.

Investigators will look at things such as whether the balcony was built to code, whether it was overloaded, and whether rain or other weather weakened it, said Kevin Moore, chairman of the structural standards committee of the Structural Engineers Association of California.

Balconies are exposed to the elements, ‘‘so deterioration can play a part,’’ Moore said. Weather, ‘‘overloading, inadequate design, all these things come up in the investigations.’’

Berkeley spokesman Matthai Chakko said that officials have not measured the balcony to find out how big it was and how much weight it was built to bear based on the 60-pound-per-square-foot standard in place when the building went up. The city’s requirement for balconies has since been raised to 100 pounds.

Chakko said there is no city requirement to post a weight restriction for balconies in apartments.

The exact dimensions of the balcony that failed were not released. Estimates varied, with Mayor Tom Bates saying city officials thought it was about 9½ feet by 5 feet, while Grace Kang, a structural engineer and spokeswoman for Pacific Earthquake Engineering Research Center at Berkeley, said it looked to her to be 4 by 6 feet, or 24 square feet.

The larger estimate would mean the balcony should hold 2,850 pounds, while Kang’s estimate would be half that. Kang said it appeared small for 13 people.

‘‘They were packed like sardines, and then they were moving,’’ Kang said. When people are moving it ‘‘may further exacerbate’’ the strain.

The Library Gardens apartment complex, completed in 2007, is in a lively part of downtown Berkeley close to the campus and is a popular place for students to live. Several tenants reached by telephone said it is well-maintained.

The building is owned by BlackRock, the largest asset-management fund in the US, according to city officials, and managed by Greystar Management, whose website says it operates more than 400,000 units in the US and abroad.

In a statement, Greystar extended condolences to the victims’ families and added: ‘‘The safety of our residents is our highest priority and we will be working with an independent structural engineer and local authorities to determine the cause of the accident.’’

On the closed street below, a shrine was growing: flowers, a pack of cigarettes, a school banner and condolence notes. Victims’ relatives were expected to begin arriving from Ireland on Tuesday night.

‘‘My heart breaks for the parents who lost children this morning, and I can only imagine the fear in the hearts of other parents whose children are in California this summer as they seek to contact them now,’’ Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny told lawmakers in Dublin.


I guess what police chief Neeham had to say didn't matter.

"Berkeley mayor ties balcony collapse to rotted wooden beams" by Lisa Leff and Martha Mendoza Associated Press  June 18, 2015

BERKELEY, Calif. — 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 United States 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 held by visiting Irish college students Tuesday, 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 but added that he is not blaming the victims.

Kind of looks like you are, and I imagine balconies are going to start dropping like crazy.

Later in the day, however, the mayor said that the water-damage theory was speculation on his part and not an official conclusion. He said an investigation was still underway.

Building inspectors also determined another balcony at the Library Gardens apartment complex was “structurally unsafe and presented a collapse hazard,” and it ordered it demolished.

Two other balconies were 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.

Segue Construction, the Library Gardens general contractor, was involved in two San Francisco Bay Area lawsuits in recent years involving allegations of dry rot and substandard balconies at condo and apartment projects in Millbrae and San Jose. Among other problems, Segue was accused of improperly waterproofing balconies.

It's standard bu$ine$$ practice in AmeriKa, especially with college kids (Bo$ton has its slums for them). Cut corners, increase profits, and it's across all sectors of AmeriKan in$titutions.

Both cases were settled in 2013 with Segue, developers, and other parties agreeing to pay millions.

Better open that wallet up again.

Segue spokesman Sam Singer said such litigation is common on large projects and “has no bearing on the tragedy in the Berkeley.”

“They are completely different projects. They are completely different types of balconies,” he said.

Singer said of the balcony collapse: “Segue Construction has never had an incident like this in its history.”

Cassandra Bujarski, a spokeswoman for the apartments’ management firm, Greystar, had no comment.

The Irish students were working and traveling in the United States over the summer, a rite of passage enjoyed by thousands of their countrymen.

“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.

The Rev. Aidan McAleenan, a Roman Catholic priest who was sitting Wednesday with two of the injured at John Muir Medical Center in Walnut Creek, said they were doing fine but that friends of the dead and injured were in shock and having a hard time talking.

Darrick Hom, president of the Structural Engineers Association of Northern California, visited the site of the collapse and said he noticed the broken wooden beams under the balcony were crumbling in the hands of investigating engineers.

“That wood was decayed or had some serious deterioration to the point where they could touch it with their hands and it was coming off in chunks in their hands,” Hom said.


Also seeDeaths from deck failure are rare, study finds


"State Police said they are holding three men who were allegedly intoxicated and acting unruly on a flight from Ireland to Boston. Spokesman David Procopio said the flight crew called State Police before landing Tuesday to report three unruly passengers. When the Aer Lingus flight arrived at Logan International Airport at about 1 p.m., troopers took the three men into protective custody. A spokeswoman for the Irish airline said the men were ‘‘causing disruption’’ on Aer Lingus flight 135 but that there were never any safety issues. Officials did not release the men’s identities or say how they were misbehaving. Procopio said the men will not be criminally charged."

The BIGGER news in Ireland:

"Documentary asks if British state colluded with Northern Irish terrorists" by Adam Taylor Washington Post   June 18, 2015

WASHINGTON — British Prime Minister David Cameron will meet his Irish counterpart, Taoiseach Enda Kenny, in London this week to discuss matters such as the current political deadlock in Ireland and the potential British exit from the European Union. Yet the talk might not only deal with the future or the present: ‘‘Legacy issues’’ are also due to be discussed by the pair.

According to the Irish Times, this is currently understood to refer to British government documents about the 1974 bombings in Dublin and Monaghan that left 34 dead. The Ulster Volunteer Force, a loyalist paramilitary group from Northern Ireland, claimed responsibility for that attack in the 1990s, but there have long been suspicions that British security forces had also colluded in the plot.

That has been known for a long time now, and it even expanded beyond Ireland in later years. There was even Amerikan involvement.

There are many who hope, however, that the discussion of alleged British collusion with loyalist paramilitaries during the Troubles, which raged in Northern Ireland from the late 1960s to the late 1990s, will go much further than that. A damning new documentary, aired on Monday evening by semi-state broadcaster Raidió Teilifís Éireann, has added fuel.

RTE’s “Collusion” contains a remarkable number of allegations, including that the Royal Ulster Constabulary (the police force in Northern Ireland until it was dissolved in 2001) had a unit that worked with various loyalist paramilitary groups to attack nationalist and republican leaders and that sections of the British army were passing on weapons, expertise, and intelligence to groups who then used them in attacks.

“If ordinary Catholics were shot, nobody was too worried about it,” John Weir, a former RUC sergeant, says at the start of the documentary. Weir later says that “security services, army intelligence, special branch” were linked to the Dublin-Monaghan bombings and that many were fearful of an all-out civil war breaking out.

The accusations of collusion included in the documentary go right up to the 1990s. “Collusion” even reveals how official concerns about the links between the British state and paramilitary groups were raised with former British prime ministers Edward Heath and Margaret Thatcher, but they were dismissed. However, declassified documents “now show the British government was well-aware of collusion,” the documentary says.


No surprise that was a one-day wonder tucked into the bottom-left corner of page A6.

Also seeIreland’s abortion ban criticized

You are better off getting a nanny.

UPDATE: Berkeley, Calif., tightens building code after fatal balcony collapse

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