11 dead, 8 miss­ing af­ter earth­quake jolts Malaysian peak Mt. Kin­a­balu

The China Post - - INTERNATIONAL - BY SATISH CHENEY

A strong earth­quake that jolted Malaysia’s Mt. 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-me­ter 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.

The Star news­pa­per later quoted un­named search and res­cue of­fi­cials say­ing the fi­nal death toll could rise as high as 19 but there was no im­me­di­ate con­fir­ma­tion of that fig­ure.

The re­ports said the dead in­cluded mem­bers of a Sin­ga­pore el­e­men­tary school group on an ex­cur­sion to the peak, in­clud­ing a 12-year-old girl who was killed, as well as a lo­cal Malaysian climb­ing guide.

“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.

Res­cuers ear­lier on Satur­day fin­ished es­cort­ing 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 af­ter­shocks in­clud­ing a Satur­day af­ter­noon tem­blor that Malaysian of­fi­cials rated at 4.5-mag­ni­tude.

It staff and jour­nal­ists scur­ry­ing out of the park’s head­quar­ters.

Re­ports said most peo­ple on the moun­tain when the quake hit were Malaysian but that they also in­cluded hik­ers from Sin­ga­pore, the United States, the Philip­pines, the United King­dom, Thai­land, Turkey, China and Ja­pan.

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, jolt­ing a wide area of Sabah 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 Mt. 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 as say­ing.

“I am not go­ing to climb again, I am scared.”

Mt. Kin­a­balu is among the top tourist at­trac­tions in a state famed for its rain­forests, wild rivers and coral reefs.

Around 20,000 com­plete the rel­a­tively easy climb each year, usu­ally tak­ing two days.

The force of the tremor was so strong that it top­pled one of the two “Don­key’s Ears,” tow­er­ing twin rock out­crop­pings that form a dis­tinc­tive part of the peak’s pro­file.

Mt. Kin­a­balu is sa­cred to the lo­cal Kadazan Dusun tribe, 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 snapped nude pho­tos at the sum­mit and posted them on the In­ter­net.

“This will cer­tainly bring mis­for­tune ... we can’t play with the spirit of the sa­cred moun­tain,” state Deputy Chief Min­is­ter Joseph Pairin Kitin­gan told re­porters Satur­day.

He called for the tourists to be brought to jus­tice.

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