Shock at Galway-Mayo IT over deaths of two students in fire in Belgium

Dace Zarina (22) and Sara Gibadlo (19) were ‘very popular’, ‘bright and creative’

Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology described the two women who died in a fire in Belgium yesterday as "very talented young students".

The college said its primary focus was on supporting the families of Dace Zarina (22) from Longford and Sara Gibadlo (19) from Oranmore, Co Galway, who died in the blaze.

GMIT secretary and financial controller Jim Fennell said it was liaising with the Leuven Institute for Ireland in Europe, the Irish Embassy in Belgium and the authorities on repatriating the bodies of the two students. GMIT registrar Michael Hannon travelled to Brussels to meet the students' families last night.

The two women had just started an Erasmus scheme 30-week work placement in the Belgian institute, and were the only two on this particular placement. Both students were in their second year and studying a bachelor of business degree in hotel and catering management at the main Galway campus.


Both were Irish nationals, with Ms Zarina's family originally from Latvia and Ms Gibadlo's family originally from Poland.

'Huge loss'
GMIT college of tourism and arts head Cáit Noone described the two women as "very talented young students", who were "both bright and creative", and said it was a "huge loss". She said all students on campus were in shock, and the mood was "very sombre".

The college of tourism and arts has some 1,700 students, of which about 400 are assigned annually on work placements. GMIT said in a statement that its students and staff were “trying to come to terms with the tragic news”.

“Many of their classmates are on placement in different European locations and are being informed of the tragic news by the college authorities,” the college said.

“GMIT has a long-established working relationship with the Leuven Institute for Ireland in Europe. Our students have been going on placement to the Belgian college for at least six years.”

Mr Fennell said the college did not have access to all the facts in relation to reports about issues at the accommodation, but said this would be addressed in the coming days.

Ms Gibadlo had attended Calasanctius College in Oranmore, and yesterday the principal, Mary Nihill, paid tribute to her. "Sara was a very gentle and beautiful young girl who was very kind. She left a very good impression on everyone in the school," she said.

GMIT students’ union president Sam O’Neill said: “We are all very shocked with the news that broke today about Sara and Dace. On behalf of all GMIT students, I would like to extend our deepest sympathies to the families and friends of the two girls.

“They were very popular students, not only among their classmates, but throughout the whole college here in GMIT. It’s a tragic loss of two bright young students who had great futures ahead of them.”

Ms Gibadlo had been living with her parents, Josef and Malgoizaia, twin brother Slawomir and sister Magda (15) in Oranmore, just outside Galway city, for several years.