An investigation has been launched into a house blaze which killed two Irish students who had just started a work placement in Belgium.
Dace Zarina, 22, from Longford, and Sara Gibadlo, 19, from Oranmore, Galway, had only been living in the university city of Leuven for a number of weeks when they died in the blaze at student accommodation this morning.
The second-year undergraduates were on a 30-week work placement at the Leuven Institute for Ireland as part of their business degree in hotel and catering management at Galway Mayo Institute of Technology (GMIT).
Family and friends are said to be devastated by the double tragedy.
Both Irish nationals, Ms Zarina’s family are originally from Latvia and Ms Gibadlo’s family are from Poland.
They were the only two GMIT students on placement in the Belgian college, but were among a larger group of Irish students, who managed to escape the blaze with their lives.
Cait Noone, head of GMIT College of Tourism and Arts, said students and staff are struggling to come to terms with the tragic deaths.
“GMIT is devastated,” she said.
“Dace and Sara were very talented young students. They were both bright, creative young girls. It’s a huge loss.”
College authorities spent the day with the young women’s grief-stricken families and trying to get in contact with classmates, on placement in different locations around Europe, to inform them about the deaths.
The pair were missing since the outbreak of the fire at a house on the corner of the Bankstraat and the Kapucijnenvoer this morning.
Flemish television reported that the students’ bodies were discovered by firefighters under rubble inside the gutted house.
Eight other students staying in the building – all Irish – escaped and do not appear to have suffered any serious injury.
One fled through a roof and two others managed to get out with the help of neighbours.
Leuven police spokesman Marc Vranckx said an investigation has been launched into the circumstances leading to the blaze.
Leuven is some 30 kilometres (18 miles) east of Brussels.
Rik Gosselink, vice rector of the University of Leuven, said the building where the students were staying is owned by the Irish College.
“We are deeply saddened by the events that took place this morning and we want to express our deepest sympathies to the families of the deceased students,” he said.
“The students who were able to escape the building are being seen to by the Irish College.
“KU Leuven will support the college in every way it can in this.”
In a statement, the university said the blaze has prompted many questions about the fire safety of student housing in Leuven.
“Privately-owned student residences are not operated by KU Leuven, but are listed via Kotwijs, a website administered by the university’s Housing Office,” it said.
“All rooms that are rented out via this website must be registered with the city and undergo a thorough inspection by the fire department.
“The building where this morning’s fire occurred was not known to KU Leuven’s Housing Office.”