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Neighbour says he was awoken to the sound of sirens on the street

The balcony collapse caused the people to plunge about 40ft (12.2m) to the ground
The balcony collapse caused the people to plunge about 40ft (12.2m) to the ground

A young Irishman living in the same apartment block where today's tragedy occurred has said the rooms in the building are "quite small" and hold around six people.

Six Irish students have died in the US after a balcony collapsed during a 21st birthday party.

At least another seven were injured, some critically, in the incident on the fourth floor of an apartment complex in Berkeley, California, in the early hours of the morning.

The balcony collapse caused the dead and injured to plunge about 40ft (12.2m) to the ground.

James Mullaney (20), who lives in the same apartment block where the tragedy occurred, said he and his housemates woke up to the sound of sirens on the street.

He described the balconies in the apartments as “small enough”, and he said they might only hold a maximum of six people. 

“We’re overlooking the street. We just heard a lot of noise. We were asleep and woke up with the noise of the sirens, there were emergency crews everywhere and tv crews,” he told the Herald.

“Right now, there are police across the street and people setting up tv cameras. But the road is not closed.

“As soon as I saw all the emergency services, I just texted my mother to say ‘in case you hear anything, I’m grand’. She knew as soon as I woke up that I was OK.”

Berkley is a popular area for J1 students since temporary summer work is widely available in the surrounding Bay area and the weather is good.

“There are loads of jobs, people who come here are usually working in San Francisco which is only 40 minutess away. Everyone gets jobs in the city. And the weather is so good in Berkley, and it’s a university town so accommodation is cheaper as well.”

Those caught up in the incident were rushed to hospitals and trauma centres in and around Berkeley, and also in Oakland and to Walnut Creek, with fire crews from several stations in the city involved in the emergency response.

Social workers were on hand in some of the hospitals to field calls from family and friends of those caught up in the accident.

A special emergency helpline set up at the Department of Foreign Affairs in Dublin has been inundated with calls in the wake of the tragedy.

At least four people were taken to the Sutter Alta Bates Summit Medical Centre.

Irish President Michael D Higgins sent a message of condolence while on a state visit to Italy.

"I have heard with the greatest sadness of the terrible loss of life of young Irish people and the critical injury of others in Berkeley, California, today," he said.

"My heart goes out to the families and loved ones of all those involved. I have been informed of the consular assistance being provided to assist all of the families involved and I have asked to be kept informed as further details emerge."

The US Ambassador to Ireland, Kevin O'Malley, expressed sympathy to the families, loved ones and friends of those who died.

"All of us at the United States Embassy are greatly saddened by news of this tragic incident and are ready to do whatever we can to assist the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs at this difficult time. We will continue to co-ordinate as more details become available," he said.

Update: 16.36: Two more Irish residents of the building, Dan Sullivan and Mark Neville, have been speaking to insidebayarea.com about what they saw.
 
"We just heard a bang in the middle of night and shouting," said Sullivan. He wasn't at the party, but knew others who were.

"It's just a shocker, it's crazy," he added.

Neville said: "I saw rubble on the street, and a bunch of students crying," 

Update: 17.29: Now there is video of  Mark Neville speaking about the collapse.