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Earthquake in Malaysian Borneo Strands 160 Climbers on Mount Kinabalu

by Alexander Smith /  / Updated 
 This undated photo shows Mount Kinabalu, South East Asia's highest peak, in East Malaysia's state of Sabah.
This undated photo shows Mount Kinabalu, South East Asia's highest peak, in East Malaysia's state of Sabah.AFP via Getty Images

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At least 160 people were trapped on one of the highest mountains in Southeast Asia on Friday after a 6.0-magnitude earthquake struck the island of Borneo, officials said.

The epicenter was around five miles from the summit of Mount Kinabalu, a 13,500-foot peak in the Malaysian part of the island that is a hot spot for climbers and trekkers.

Several climbers were injured in the tremor, which also badly damaged several mountain huts and triggered boulder and rockfalls, according to Masidi Manjun, tourism minister for Malaysia's Sabah state.

"We just froze"

"Other than ongoing rescue efforts, our priority is to send food, drinks and warm clothing to those still stranded at the mountain," Manjun said on Twitter.

He said 137 climbers, assisted by 32 guides, were attempting to make their way to the Laban Rata climber's hut on the south side of the mountain. There they would be met by an 85-strong team of rescuers as well as supplies of food, he said.

Manjun added that part of the mountain's iconic "Donkey's Ear" rock formation had been destroyed in the quake.

Charlene Dmp, who said she was among the stranded climbers, posted pictures to Facebook appearing to show at least 40 people waiting on a steep slope high above the clouds.

"Please wait for us. We're doing our best," she said just after 6 p.m. local time (6 a.m. ET). "Just pray for our arrival"

She added: "We cannot go down for now because there are lots of stones falling. There is no safe route down and there are still tremors."

Instagram user gsailormy posted a video of climbers walking down the mountain, with the message: "Earthquake at Mt Kinabalu! We are trapped here at the peak! Luckily phone is still OK!"

"Our whole hotel room was shaking," said Arina Aizal, a 16-year-old from Malaysia’s Penang region who was on holiday with her family near the epicenter. “We had just woken up so it was very shocking,” she told NBC News by telephone. “All the coffee cups were spilling and everything was falling off the shelves. We just froze.”

Aizal’s father, 40-year-old government worker Aizal Mazlan, added: “It was really scary because we are not at all used to earthquakes here. They are very rare. It’s all calm now but officials here are very worried about aftershocks.”

A travel agent at the Amazing Borneo Tours, based in the city of Kota Kinabalu around 35 miles away, told NBC News that foggy conditions on the mountain meant rescue helicopters were not able to reach the stranded climbers.

The worker said that despite patchy communications, his company's staff on the mountain had reported back via telephone that rescuers were attempting to reach them on foot.

The Star, an English language news website in Malaysia, posted what it said was footage of the quake. The USGS said it struck at 7:15 a.m. local time (7:15 p.m. ET) at a depth of 6 miles.

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