Last Friday, Malaysia’s Mt. Kinabalu, a 4095 meter (13,435 ft) trekking peak on the island of Borneo, was struck with a 5.9 magnitude earthquake that claimed the lives of at least 16 people, and left dozens of others injured and stranded on the mountain for a time. There are believed to be at least two others still missing, and the death toll could rise even further as search and rescue teams continue their efforts.
The earthquake inflicted damage along the island’s west coast, destroying buildings and fracturing roads. It was also powerful enough to shatter one of the mountain’s iconic landmark known as the “Donkey’s Ears.” One of the twin rock formations that make up that monument was broken off during the tremors.
Early search and rescue operations were stymied by rocks and boulders continuing to tumble down the mountain in the aftermath of the quake. Landslides blocked roads and made it difficult for SAR teams to climb up the mountain to search for injured trekkers to assist. Eventually things did calm down however, and by Saturday most of the hikers on Mt. Kinabalu had been successfully extracted from the mountain.
Kinabalu is the highest peak in Malaysia, and is a popular mountain for trekkers, many of which come from all over the world to climb to its summit. It generally takes about two days to complete that climb, with no technical skills needed to reach the top. After the earthquake hit last week, the teams on the mountain abandoned their attempts to reach the summit, and retreated back down. Many had suffered injuries, including broken bones, and one trekker was reportedly in a coma.
Of the 16 climbers who perished on the mountain, reports indicate that seven of them were from Singapore, Six were Malay, with the additional causalities coming from the Philippines, China, and Japan.
Thankfully this earthquake did not have the far reaching destruction that one in Nepal had back in April. This one was much less powerful, and was further away from population centers. Still, this is a tragic event with travelers losing their lives in a place that is typically fairly safe to visit. My thoughts are with the friends and family of those who died in this disaster.
In a bit of an odd turn to this story, some superstitious locals are blaming a different group of tourists for actually causing the earthquake. Apparently, a group of trekkers stripped naked on the summit for some photos, which some of the islanders believed angered the mountain, causing the deadly quake. This belief is taken so seriously that some of the trekkers in question could actually face charges. While this story is a sad one for sure, these kinds of angles are very disappointing in the 21st century. Hopefully this doesn’t get too out hand.
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