By Rory Carroll
BERKELEY, Calif., June 16 (Reuters) - An apartment balcony collapsed early on Tuesday near the University of California at Berkeley, killing six people, all believed to be visiting college students from Ireland, and injuring several others, authorities said.
The victims, most if not all of whom were working in the San Francisco Bay area on temporary visas for summer vacation, had been celebrating a friend's 21st birthday when the tragedy occurred, according to Irish government officials in Dublin.
Pictures from the scene showed that the fourth-floor balcony gave way and pancaked onto the third-story balcony just beneath it at the Library Gardens apartment complex, about two blocks from the UC Berkeley campus across the bay from San Francisco.
Berkeley Police spokeswoman Jennifer Coats initially reported that at least five people were killed. The coroner bureau of the Alameda County Sheriff's Office later said six fatalities had been confirmed.
Coats said as many as eight people were badly hurt in the collapse. Injuries sustained by the surviving victims, she said, were "very serious and potentially life-threatening."
Irish Foreign Minister Charlie Flanagan and Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny said all the victims were "young Irish citizens," visiting the United States on so-called J1 visas.
Flanagan said police had indicated they did not believe people of other nationalities were among the dead.
"My heart goes out to the families and loved ones of the deceased and those who have been injured," he said in a statement.
Thousands of students from Irish universities travel to the United States on temporary working visas every summer before returning to Ireland to complete their studies.
Coats said callers had first reported the collapse at the four-story apartment block in the downtown area of the college city near San Francisco at around 12:45 a.m.
Police were working with the fire department and city officials to determine what caused the collapse, Coats said.
Flanagan said the balcony collapse appeared to have been an accident. (Additional reporting by Curtis Skinner in San Francisco and Padraic Halpin in Dublin and Elijah Nouvelage in Berkeley; Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Gareth Jones and Doina Chiacu)