Last updated: 05:36 PM ET, Sat June 06 2015

Deadly Earthquake Strikes Popular Malaysian Peak

Impacting Travel | Michael Isenbek | June 06, 2015

Deadly Earthquake Strikes Popular Malaysian Peak

Photo via Twitter

Adventuring tourists became stuck in a deadly ordeal when a magnitude-6.0 earthquake struck Mount Kinabalu, one of Southeast Asia’s highest peaks, and a popular destination on the Malaysian island of Borneo, CNN reported.

The tremor set off crushing rockslides and tipped over boulders that killed individuals hiking on Kinabalu's trails, explained Jamili Nais, Malaysia's Sabah Parks conservation area director.

Malaysian tourism minister Masidi Manjun told the BBC the quake was so powerful, one of the mountain’s distinctive "Donkey's Ear" peaks snapped off.

According to CNN, as of Saturday evening, local time, the death toll is 13, with six still missing. Some of the dead were among 19 students and two teachers visiting from a Singapore primary school.

The BBC reported that nationals from China, the U.S., the Philippines, the U.K., Thailand, Turkey, and Japan, in addition to the Singaporeans, were on the mountain when the quake struck.

"The students (are) shaken but are safe," Singapore's Minister of Education Heng Swee Keat said to CNN after a "very emotional" airport meeting Saturday with the surviving students and teachers. "The teachers are also affected, but stayed resilient."

Search teams are still hoping to find survivors, though they may be injured. According to CNN, there are more than 400 rescue workers combing the mountain, clearing pathways that were blocked by debris. There are also helicopters scanning the scene from overhead.

Manjun said via Twitter that Monday would be a day of mourning in Kinabalu’s home state of Sabah. He also tweeted that a yearly harvest festival has been canceled "as (a) mark of respect to those who perished." 

Authorities have named not all the dead, but two were Rubbi Sappingi, a 30-year-old mountain guide working with Amazing Borneo Tours, and Rachael Ho Yann Shiuan, a 12-year-old student from Singapore.

BOMBA, Malaysia’s fire and rescue department has been keeping track of the efforts to remove the dead, injured, and stuck from off Kinabalu. They did cite mountain guides as crucial to helping 167 people get to safety.

As did Nurul Hani Ideris, 29, who was on the peak of Kinabalu with climbers and tour guides when the quake hit. They were quickly stranded. "All the paths vanished," she said to CNN.

While coping with near-freezing temperatures, little food, and the sight of dead bodies, it was the 75 guides that converged on the mountain that played a crucial role in Ideris’s grueling 10-hour hike to safety.

"We were exhausted, starving at the same time ... it was very difficult," she told CNN.

But the mountain guides "seemed to know every single part of the place," and carved a new path through the ravaged landscape by cutting branches and tying ropes.

"No one came to save us," she said. If it hadn't been for the mountain guides, "We would be freezing to death."

Lynn Siang, a tour agency spokeswoman, dubbed the mountain guides "heroes."

"The main rescue work was done by the mountain guides," she asserted to CNN. "On the path that was blocked by fallen rocks, the mountain guides had to tie a rope. When climbers crossed the ropes, they had to step on the shoulders of the guides — the guides used their body as a cushion.

"They really have sacrificed a lot," Siang added, before paying tribute to a deceased guide. "Rubbi — he sacrificed a lot."

Mount Kinabalu is part of an UNESCO-listed national park, and is 13,435 feet above It is such a tourist draw that visitors have to book two or three months in advance to obtain one of 196 daily hiking permits.

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