A number of young Irish people have died after a balcony collapsed in the US.
Five people were killed and eight others injured when a fourth-floor balcony collapsed in Berkeley, California, early today, according to local reports.
Dublin’s Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan said: “It is with great sadness that I confirm 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, California, earlier today.”
It is reported the balcony fell on to a footpath from the top of a four-storey building shortly after midnight local time.
Berkeley Fire Department and city officials are said to be on the scene, which has been sealed off.
“My heart goes out to the families and loved ones of the deceased and those who have been injured in this appalling accident,” said Mr Flanagan.
“My department in Dublin stands ready to provide all possible consular assistance to the Irish citizens affected by this tragedy.”
Jennifer Coats, a spokeswoman with the Berkeley Police Department, told local media that many of the injured have critical, life-threatening wounds.
“We don’t have a lot of specific detail at this point because they (investigators) are still trying to work through it all,” said Ms Coats.
There has been no immediate details of how the incident occurred at the apartment and retail building on Kittredge Street in the university city.
A 21st birthday party was taking place in the apartment when the accident happened.
The complex at Liberty Gardens was built in 2006.
Pictures showed that the balcony appeared to have broken off from the building and partly landed on the balcony below as well as in the street.
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.
Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness added his condolences over the tragedy.
“Shocking news of the deaths of several young Irish people in a tragic accident in California. My heart & sympathy goes out to their families,” he said.
Brendan Smith, foreign affairs spokesman for the Fianna Fail party, said: “I wish to extend my deepest sympathies to those who have lost a loved one in this tragic accident. The details are still emerging and it may be a number of days before we have a clear picture of what happened.
“This is an extremely difficult time for the families and my thoughts and prayers are with them.”
Speaking outside Government Buildings in Dublin, Mr Flanagan said: “It’s an appalling tragedy, an appalling loss of life for young people whose hopes and dreams of the future have suddenly and without notice been shattered.
“There are a number of other students in the apartment at what I understand to have been a 21st birthday party who have been injured. They are being treated at a nearby hospital.
“I understand from both the police and indeed the hospital that five Irish citizens have lost their lives.”
Mr Flanagan said he believes a number of other injured students - between eight and nine - are all Irish students.
It is understood they are students who were travelling on the popular J1 working visa to the US.
Thousands of Irish families are getting in touch with a special emergency helpline set up in the wake of the tragedy.