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5 Americans among climbers trapped on Mount Kinabalu
01:44 - Source: CNN

Story highlights

NEW: 11 dead and others still missing after earthquake hits Mount Kinabalu

167 climbers safely rescued from by mountain guides, authorities say

Climber says escape was 'very difficult;' 'disappointed' with government for slow response

CNN  — 

Eleven people have died after a powerful earthquake struck a Southeast Asian mountain.

“Sad Day! I have just announced the recovery of 9 (additional) bodies by rescue teams,” Malaysia’s tourism minister Masidi Manjun said on Twitter. “Trying to get helis to bring them down. Fatalities to date: 11.”

Mountain guides have helped 167 climbers to safety after the quake stranded them atop Kinabalu, one of Southeast Asia’s tallest peaks, according to the official Twitter account of the Malaysia Fire and Rescue Department.

Two of those confirmed dead were Rubbi Sappingi, a 30-year-old mountain guide attached to Amazing Borneo Tours, and Rachael Ho Yann Shiuan, 12, a Singaporean student.

Eight people remain unaccounted for, added Manjun, saying that the nine new bodies recovered Saturday had not yet been identified.

Many of the missing were students and teachers from a Singaporean primary school, Singapore’s Minister of Education Heng Swee Keat announced Saturday.

Singapore’s government was arranging a special flight to the disaster zone to fly parents from the school to Sabah, said Heng.

“We will do all we can to find the missing students and teachers in Mount Kinabalu,” he wrote on Facebook.

The magnitude-6.0 quake struck early Friday, damaging several buildings in Ranau – the epicenter, the Bernama news agency said.

Videos and social media photos taken from the base of the mountain appeared to show large rock slides enveloping the peak after the tremor and people anxiously looking for shelter.

Helicopters had difficulty reaching the climbers on the mountain peak due to bad weather, said Jamili Nais, Sabah Parks director.

Damage to the hospital in Ranau also hampered rescue efforts, he said.

Mountain guides ‘heroes’

Nurul Hani Ideris, 29, was on the mountain peak with a group of climbers and tour guides when the quake struck, blocking off trails and stranding them.

Shivering in near-freezing temperatures, they waited all day for a helicopter rescue that never came. But then a team of an additional 75 guides from the park arrived, she said.

They managed to reach safety after a grueling 10-hour hike through debris that lasted into the middle of the night, sharing what little food and water they had and passing by what appeared to be dead bodies.

Climbers were stranded on the peak of Mount Kinabalu after the earthquake hit.

A helicopter spotted them and threw two boxes of supplies, but the boxes fell off a gorge.

“We were exhausted, starving at the same time … it was very difficult,” she said.

Still, the mountain guides “seemed to know every single part of the place,” and managed to carve a route through the devastated landscape, cutting branches and tying ropes to create a new path.

It was nearly 2 a.m. Saturday when they reached Kundasang, a town near the mountain’s southern base.

Only as they neared the base did they see the fire brigade and later the army.

Ideris said climbers were “very disappointed” with the government.

“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, echoed that sentiment, characterizing the mountain guides as “heroes.”

“The main rescue work was done by the mountain guides,” she told 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 evoking the name of the guide who didn’t make it. “Robbi – he sacrificed a lot.”

Siang added no one should be blamed in the disaster’s wake.

Calls to Malaysia’s tourism ministry and rescue department were not immediately answered Saturday morning.

At 4,095 meters (13,435 feet) above sea level, Kinabalu is one of the highest mountains in Southeast Asia. The UNESCO-listed Mount Kinabalu National Park is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the state of Sabah, in Malaysian Borneo, with visitors forced to book two to three months in advance to secure one of 196 daily allocated hiking permits.

CNN’s Kevin Wang contributed to this report.