The Irish College in the Belgian city of Leuven has issued a statement tonight saying that the building in which two young Irish students were killed this morning was in compliance with all regulations.

The statement follows reports by both the city's police and fire departments that the building should have been registered as a student residence but was not.

They said it was thereby not subjected to a mandatory fire inspection.

The college's statement was issued following the deaths of 22-year-old Dace Zarina from Co Longford and 19-year-old Sara Gibadlo from Oranmore in Co Galway.

They were both second-year students at the Galway Mayo Institute of Technology, and were on work placement at the Irish College in Leuven.

They were killed in a fire which engulfed the building this morning.  Eight other Irish students managed to escape.

In the statement the college, also known as the Leuven Institute for Ireland in Europe, conveyed its sympathy to the victims' families.

It said: "The building which was destroyed this morning by the fire was in compliance with all the regulations.

"Two years ago the building was thoroughly inspected by officials from the insurance company. The building was equipped with all the necessary safety arrangements such as fire alarm, fire extinguishers and escape ladder."

Ms Zarina and Ms Gibadlo had just begun a 30-week Erasmus work placement in Leuven as part of their Business degree in Hotel and Catering Management.

Ms Zarina's family originally comes from Latvia and Ms Gibadlo's from Poland. They were the only two GMIT students on placement in the Belgian college.

It is understood the building where the fire happened was a private residence and not formally linked with the Irish College or with the University of Leuven.

The eight students who escaped the blaze were treated in the city's main hospital after being rescued.

They are now being looked after in the college, according to Ireland's ambassador to Belgium, Eamonn Mac Aodha.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny offered his deepest sympathies to the families of the two students.

Mr Kenny said: "It is always sad when something like this happens, especially with two young people."

Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore this afternoon said: "I would like to extend my deepest sympathies to the families of Dace Zarina and Sara Gibadlo, who lost their lives this morning in Leuven.

"My thoughts are also with their fellow students at the Institute for Ireland, who have been through a terrible ordeal."

It is understood the Irish students were on work placements from a number of institutes of technology in the travel, tourism and catering sectors.

The Institute for Ireland in Europe at Leuven has been hosting catering students for the past 20 years, according to an institute source.

Staff and students at GMIT are said to be distraught at the news of the deaths.

Senior officials from the college are with the students' families and counselling services are being offered to friends and teachers at GMIT.

Police in Leuven said the Polish and Latvian embassies in Belgium were involved in identifying the bodies of the two women.

Relatives of the two students who died in the fire are travelling to Leuven tonight.

Family members will be met there by the Irish Ambassador to Belgium, GMIT Registrar Michael Hannon and Institute for Ireland in Europe Director Malachy Vallaly.

Authorities in GMIT say a special prayer service will be held next week to remember the women.

It will take place in the College of Tourism and Arts.

Building owner questioned by police

Police in Leuven have said the owner of the building was questioned this afternoon.

The police and the fire department earlier told RTÉ News that the owner had not registered it as a student residence.

Jeroen Ameel, commander of the department, told RTÉ News that all buildings operating as student residences in Leuven must register with the public authorities and arrange a fire inspection.

However, he said the authorities had no record of the building being formally registered as a student residence.

Leuven Police Commissioner Marc Vranckx said that all aspects of the tragedy, including the legal status of the building that housed the ten students, would form part of the police investigation, which could run for several weeks.

Eight in shock but physically all right

Leuven Police Commissioner Marc Vranckx has said the eight students who escaped from this morning's fire are in shock, but are physically all right.

Mr Vranckx said a couple of the students were suffering from smoke inhalation. They had to escape from the building in nightwear.

He described the scene when emergency services arrived: "When we came here it [the fire] was very heavy, with big flames.

"There were two people coming out of the window via the roof to get away, six others were on the street, they were okay.

"Two others, there was no news about, and after a few hours the firemen found them in the house.

"They were all in shock. It was 6am, they were in pyjamas. They knew that two of their friends were still inside the house, so it was very terrible for them."

Mr Vranckx said it was impossible at this point to say what caused the fire and authorities would have to await the results of the investigation into the blaze.

He said that there was up to 50,000 students in Leuven, many of them from other countries.