Six Irish students mourned after balcony collapses in Berkeley, California
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12:08Hello and welcome to our continuing live coverage of the aftermath of yesterday's tragedy in which six young Irish people died following an apartment balcony collapse in Berkeley, California. I'm Hugh Linehan and I'll be providing updates over the next few hours. Please feel free to contact me on Twitter @hlinehan or by email at email@example.com with any relevant information.
12:11Simon Carswell reports that the families of some of the six Irish students who were killed and the seven others who were injured when a balcony collapsed while they were celebrating a 21st birthday party in Berkeley, California, have started to arrive in the United States.
It is understood the parents of one of the dead students and two of the injured arrived in San Francisco on Tuesday night. Twenty more family members are expected today.
12:20UCD has opened an online Book of Condolence on its website. Yiu can access it here. The university is also offering its counselling and student support services to the bereaved in the US and Dublin.
A book of condolence will open at the Mansion House, Dawson St., Dublin 2, details as follows:The Taoiseach says Minister for Diaspora Jimmy Deenihan is to travel to Berkeley to offer any help that is needed.
Thursday 18th June 10am - 4pm
Friday 19th June 10am - 4pm
There has been a storm of negative reaction to a New York Times article on the events of the last day. The piece, by Adam Nagourney and Quentin Hardy in Berkeley, Mitch Smith in Chicago. Douglas Dalby in Dublin, and Noah Smith in San Francisco. with research by Kitty Bennett from New York, perhaps unsurprisingly given the number of writers is not entirely coherent, but many people, including Minister of State Aodhan O'Riordan, believe its overall tone is inappropriate as it prominently highlights the negative publicity which has attached to some J-1 participants in recent years. Here's the second paragraph:
'...the work-visa program that allowed for the exchanges has in recent years become not just a source of aspiration, but also a source of embarrassment for Ireland, marked by a series of high-profile episodes involving drunken partying and the wrecking of apartments in places like San Francisco and Santa Barbara.'
Micheal Martin: It's important the national parliament reflect the national grief and sadness, says it's correct to adjourn in respect #dail— Gavan Reilly (@gavreilly) June 17, 2015
13:14lisa NYT, cheap shot. Balconies collapse all the time here. Boston had one last year. Nothing to do with it being Irish kids... And STUDENTS are STUDENTS... Partying is their life... U.S. students riot constantly. Unfair, NYT!
Here's a report from a local TV station on what a structural engineer is saying the early evidence suggests about the balcony collapse. 'The main if not the only cause is dry rot of the material'.
Here's a first response to criticism of its article from the New York Times (or, more accurately, from Margaret Sullivan, the NYT's public affairs editor, who works outside of the reporting and editing structure of the newspaper and receives and answers questions or comments from readers and the public, principally about news and other coverage)
Sincere sympathy to all affected by #Berkeley tragedy. Please know that I am aware of reaction and will look into it today.— Margaret Sullivan (@Sulliview) June 17, 2015
If you would like to share your thoughts and reflections on the tragedy with the readers and participants in the Irish Times Generation Emigration project, you can do so here.
US website Vocativ reports that residents of Library Gardens, the y building where the balcony collapse took place, have complained online about shoddy construction and unreliable building management for years,
A building resident five years ago grumbled about severe water damage to her floor after a leak in her ceiling became a gaping hole. It wasn’t fixed for several months even though it was “unsafe” and “nasty looking,” she posted on Yelp in 2010.
The unease echoed on Google+, where someone said in a post last fall that the building’s elevators are slow and often broken, the windows and building materials “are crap” and the ventilation is poor. A former Library Gardens resident, who lived there in 2009, posted on Yelp last week about her experience as a college student in the building: “My roommate and I used to joke that Ikea was expanding to building construction,” she wrote. “The walls were so thin we could here (sic) everything and had to sleep with earplugs. We also had to put flattened cardboard boxes against our windows to prevent gusts of cold air coming.”
Read the full article here.
16:32That's it from me, Hugh Linehan, for this afternoon. Handing over now to Colin Gleeson, who'll continue with our coverage for the rest of the day.
Good afternoon. My name is Colin Gleeson and I will be taking over from Hugh Linehan on the Irish Times live blog of events from Berkeley, California, for the rest of the day.
Feel free to get in touch by tweeting me @ColinGleesonIT
NUI Galway president Dr Jim Browne has issued a statement in relation to the tragedy.
He says the college community is “deeply saddened and heartbroken” to hear of the Irish students lost in the “devastating tragedy” in Berkeley, California.
“This untimely loss of life has shocked the university communities across Ireland and we wish to extend our deepest sympathies to all of their families, classmates and friends at this time.
“The university also wishes to express its heartfelt condolences to our colleagues at other institutions who are in mourning at this time.
“We also offer our support, through whatever means possible, to our students who may have been injured or affected by this tragic incident and a book of condolences is now on the university website.”
Flags at NUI Galway will be flown at half-mast, he added.
Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan has said concerns are also now turning to the impact the trauma will have on those who survived the accident and those who witnessed it.
“We are also conscious that many Irish students were not physically injured, but were left deeply shocked and saddened by the loss of friends and classmates in this terrible accident,” he said.
“The consulate has worked with local authorities in Berkeley to set up an incident centre in Berkeley, where grief counsellors will be on site and people will also have facilities to make phone calls home.”
Extra diplomatic staff have been flown into San Francisco to support families while local authorities in Berkeley and Irish community organisations in the bay area have been working together to provide transport and accommodation to those who need it.
Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams has released a statement extending condolences to the families of the six students on behalf of his party, as well as praising the actions thus far of the Government.
“These students and their friends were in the apartment celebrating a 21st birthday," he said. "It is easy to imagine the energy and excitement at that event before the disaster. The suddenness of the accident and the extent of the tragedy has shocked the people of Ireland and people in the USA.
“It is a dreadful stark reminder of the fragility of life – the uncertainty – especially when these victims are so young and vibrant and full of potential and possibility. There has been an outpouring of grief and sympathy for all of those affected. This tragedy is a parent’s worst nightmare.
“Some of the parents of those students who died and were injured have arrived in San Francisco on Tuesday night; more are expected.
“I welcome and commend the efforts and support of Minister Flanagan and the Department of the Foreign Affairs. I want to commend also the work of our Consul General in San Francisco, Philip Grant, who, along with his staff, is providing support for the injured and the bereaved families.
“I also commend the support and assistance of the US Ambassador to Ireland, Kevin O’ Malley, and I welcome the Taoiseach’s initiative in asking the Minister of the Diaspora to represent us all.”
The New York Times has issued an apology for its controversial article this morning.
They say it was a “second-day story”.
"It was intended to explain in greater detail why these young Irish students were in the US," its vice president of corporate communications Eileen Murphy said.
"We understand and agree that some of the language in the piece could be interpreted as insensitive, particularly in such close proximity to this tragedy.
"It was never our intention to blame the victims and we apologize if the piece left that impression. We will continue to cover this story and report on the young people who lost their lives.”
The apology itself is coming in for some criticism also.
A number of people on Twitter are complaining that it is one of those classic ‘we apologise if we’ve caused offence...’ apologies.
Evidently, you did cause offence. Otherwise you wouldn’t be apologising.
Bishop of Oakland, California Michael Barber has been in contact with Archbishop of Armagh Eamon Martin to offer his condolences following the tragedy.
He has arranged for a special memorial mass to be celebrated at 7pm local US time in the Cathedral of Christ the Light, Oakland, as a way of offering prayer and consolation to all those affected and to remember “in a special way” those who have died and those who have been injured.
Bishop Barber himself will preside at the Mass and Father Aidan McAleenan will preach the homily. Father McAleenan was one of the priests who was ministering at the hospitals where the wounded were brought yesterday.
Archbishop Eamon Martin has in turn expressed his thanks to Bishop Barber and to all of those who are helping in any way in Berkeley, Oakland at this time.
Aodhán ó Ríordáin is still not happy with the New York Times.
17:33After earlier calling the article “a disgrace”, he has now labelled the apology “pathetic”.
Margaret Sullivan, the New York Times' public affairs editor, who works outside of the reporting and editing structure of the newspaper, has responded to the criticism with an in depth article on the NYT website.
Headlined “Valid Complaints on Story about Berkeley Balcony Collapse”, Ms Sullivan has said she has spoken with Alison Mitchell, whose staff wrote and edited the story.
Ms Mitchell told her she regrets that readers believe the paper set out to blame the victims, “which was never the intention”.
If she had the chance to edit it now, she said, she would have removed some key passages from the story, including a paragraph that referenced J1 students being “a source of embarrassment for Ireland”.
Ms Sullivan said she received hundreds of complaints about the piece.
She also quotes from an email from one of the reporters on the story, Adam Nagourney, who, in fairness to him, tries to take responsibility.
He says he was trying to move the story on, but that he “had the balance wrong”.
“I put too much emphasis on the negative aspects, and they were too high in my story,” he said.
“That did not become clear to me until I got a distraught email from a reader right after the story posted. I made a minor change in the story to try to address that, but it did not go far enough.”
Ms Sullivan herself says the thrust of the story was “insensitive, and the reaction to it understandable”.
“An examination of the building’s structure, rather than the behaviour of young people in the J1 program, would have been a more appropriate focus for a second-day story.”
Ms Sullivan however does not speak for the institution, but only for herself, she adds.
“My role is to consider reader complaints, report on them internally, and sometimes comment on them publicly as I’m doing here. In that role only (and as a mother), I can say not only that I believe many of the complaints were valid, but also that I’m very sorry for the pain the story caused.”
You can read the full thing here.
18:07Two of the seven Irish students injured in the Berkeley balcony collapse, which killed six of their friends, remain in a critical condition in Highland Hospital in nearby Oakland, according to the local Irish Consul General Philip Grant.
Three sets of parents - one related to one of the deceased and two to two of the injured - arrived into San Francisco Bay Area last night.
The parents of the remaining 10 families of the six dead and seven injured in Tuesday’s tragedy are scheduled to arrive on the direct Aer Lingus flight from Dublin that lands in San Francisco this afternoon.
The seven injured in Tuesday morning’s accident have been confirmed as Clodagh Cogley, Aoife Beary, Niall Murray, Hannah Waters, Sean Fahey, Jack Halpin and Conor Flynn.
They are aged between 20 and 22 and are all from Dublin with exception of one student who is from Donegal.
Ms Waters and Ms Beary remain in a critical condition.
Their parents and other family members arrived from Ireland last night and are at the hospital. Their condition is being closed monitored by medical staff.
The Irish ambassador in the United States has stuck her oar in and written to the editor of the New York Times to complain about the offending article.
Anne Anderson writes that the language in the article was “both insensitive and inaccurate”.
“It is quite simply wrong to say that the J1 visa programme is ‘a source of embarrassment for Ireland’,” she adds.
You can read it here but there isn’t a great deal in it to be honest.
18:46There is to be a minute’s silence in the Dail in honour of the victims, and Minister for Diaspora Jimmy Deenihan is to travel to the United States on behalf of the Government "as a show of solidarity".
19:21You can watch a video of the minute's silence in the Dail here.
The US Ambassador to Ireland Kevin O'Malley has said these are "terrible, terrible times" following the tragedy.
"I've spoken to the Taoiseach, to Minister [Charlie] Flanagan and to President Higgins personally and told them that the United States government would do everything that we could for the Irish government to make sure that they can assist these families as directly as possible to have everything done as efficiently and as painlessly as possible,” he added.
The bodies of the deceased are being held at the Alameda County’s mortuary in Oakland.
The authorities are hoping to repatriate the bodies of the five Irish-resident victims as quickly as possible, ideally by the weekend.
All of the necessary autopsies are due to be carried out today and arrangements are being for the repatriation of the bodies.
20:43local Irish Consul General Philip Grant has said that an estimated 40 people, including the six dead and seven injured, attended the 21st birthday party.
The investigation into the accident is being led by the building safety department at the City of Berkeley.
It is not a criminal inquiry. The focus is on the structural aspects of the support for the balcony, the remains of which were removed by building contractors on Tuesday evening.
Today, a crane was in position on Kittredge Street and was preparing to remove a third-floor balcony underneath because of police concerns that it might pose a danger to the public on the street below.
If you you’re going to be up late tonight and want to watch coverage of the memorial mass in Oakland, it is being live streamed here.
It begins at 7pm Pacific Daylight Time, which by my calculations is 3am Irish time.
Bishop Michael C. Barber will be the presiding main celebrant at the mass.
That pretty much wraps up the live blog for today. See irishtimes.com for further updates in the coming hours and days. Thanks for reading.
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