An estimated 6,500 people have been rushed to emergency rooms with injuries from collapsing balconies, while 29—including six college students in Berkeley this week—have been killed since 2003. One reason, experts say, is balconies are particularly vulnerable to dry rot. "It's all about creating a safe structure that has endurance, that has a reasonable life expectancy," says David Helfant, who identified potential flaws in design and construction after an unofficial inspection of the Berkeley balcony that collapsed. A Consumer Product Safety Commission analysis for the Associated Press estimated that 4,600 emergency room visits were associated with deck collapses in the past decade and another 1,900 with porch failures.
With millions of ER visits a year in the US, "the type of incident that happened in Berkeley appears to be rare," commission spokesman Alexander Filip said based on data collected from 100 hospitals to make the projections. One of the worst collapses occurred in 2003, when a porch fell in Chicago and killed 13 people. The commission identified just 10 fatalities that occurred since then—until Tuesday. The Berkeley balcony snapped off the fifth floor of an apartment building, tossing 13 people to the street 50 feet below. Seven survivors are being treated in hospitals, while funerals are being planned for the six who died. (Read more Berkeley stories.)