11 dead, 8 missing after quake jolted Malaysia peak
A strong earthquake that jolted Malaysia’s Mount Kinabalu killed at least 11 people and left another 8 missing, an official said Saturday, as authorities searched for survivors on Southeast Asia’s highest peak.
The 6.0-magnitude quake struck early Friday near the picturesque mountain, a popular tourist destination, sending landslides and huge granite boulders tumbling down from the 4,095-metre (13,435-foot) peak’s wide, craggy crown.
“From Kinabalu park management, I want to express my condolences to the families of the victims,” said Masidi Manjun, tourism minister for the Malaysian state of Sabah on Borneo island, as he announced the toll at the mountain park’s headquarters.
Masidi said authorities could not yet confirm the identities of the dead and missing.
Malaysian media reports said they included members of a Singapore primary school group on an excursion to the peak, including a 12-year-old girl who was killed.
“It’s very sad. The Singapore children were so happy when they arrived here, but now…” Masidi said, trailing off as he shook his head.
Malaysian rescuers earlier on Saturday finished bringing down to safety 137 hikers who were stuck on the mountain for up to 18 hours after the quake damaged a key trail and they faced the threat of continuing rockfalls.
Crews and officials engaged in further search and rescue efforts were kept on edge, however, by a series of aftershocks, including one on Saturday afternoon that Malaysian officials rated at 4.5-magnitude.
The temblor sent staff and journalists scurrying out of the park’s headquarters.
Malaysian media reports said most people on the peak when the quake hit were Malaysian but that they also included hikers from Singapore, the United States, the Philippines, Britain, Thailand, Turkey, China and Japan.
A Malaysian climbing guide was among those dead, local media said.
Authorities have not provided details on injuries suffered by climbers.
– ‘Rocks raining down fast’ –
Major earthquakes are rare in Malaysia and the tremor was one of the strongest in decades. It jolted a wide area of Sabah, shattering windows, cracking walls and sending people fleeing outdoors.
But there have been no reports of major damage, nor any casualties outside of those on the mountain.
Masidi said all climbing would be suspended at Mount Kinabalu for at least three weeks to allow for repairs to damaged trails, accommodation and other facilities.
Malaysia’s Bernama news agency quoted a climber describing his terror as the quake unleashed a shower of large stones from the rocky peak.
“Rocks were raining down fast, like rock blasting,” Lee Yoke Fah, a 60-year-old Malaysian who suffered minor injuries, was quoted saying.
“I am not going to climb again, I am scared.”
Mount Kinabalu is among the top tourist attractions in a state famed for its rainforests, wild rivers and coral reefs.
Thousands complete the relatively easy climb each year, with most taking two days round-trip.
The force of the tremor was so strong that it toppled one of the two large “Donkey’s Ears”, towering twin rock outcroppings that form a distinctive part of the peak’s profile.
Mount Kinabalu is sacred to the local Kadazan Dusun tribal group, who consider it a resting place for departed spirits.
Malaysian social media users and some officials have suggested the quake was a sign the spirits were angry after a group of 10 apparently Western men and women tourists last weekend outraged locals by snapping nude photos at the summit and posting them on the Internet.
“This will certainly bring misfortune…we can’t play with the spirit of the sacred mountain,” deputy state chief minister Joseph Pairin Kitingan told reporters Saturday.
He called for the tourists to be brought to justice.
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