Unexpected Earthquake at Kinabalu, Sabah

The earthquake at Kinabalu, Sabah that struck on Friday, June 5, 2015, was truly unexpected. The tremor, measuring 5.9 magnitude on the Richter Scale, shook almost the entire area of Sabah. It was felt as far away as Sarawak. Some people in Miri, Lawas and Limbang felt the tremor.

No one ever thought that an earthquake this strong would ever occur around Mount Kinabalu, Sabah that was thought to consist of stable rock formation. It was said that Akinabalu, the name given by the natives to Mount Kinabalu, was solid, formed from molten lava million of years ago. There was no reason to suspect that one day, a violent earthquake would shake the entire span of Sabah with its epicentre at Kinabalu.

Mountain guides among those who perished

The earthquake struck very early in the morning.  I was outside at that time. I felt the earth move under my feet. I thought that I was feeling sick. Then I saw the earth move under my feet as if it was floating on water. But when I saw the trees swaying in the windless morning, it dawned upon me that there was an earthquake. As soon as I went inside I looked at the clock. It was 7.30 a.m. but I concluded that the tremor must have occurred at 7.15 a.m. I was busy and I soon forgot about it.

But when I went outside again, a neighbour asked me whether I felt the tremor. When I answered in the affirmative, she then said that she did not feel anything and that there must be something wrong with her. There were very few people who felt the tremor.

On the way to Donggongon, I had to stop my car because the engine was heating up and sputtering. Then, I sent an SMS to one Caroline Marcus who said that numerous people were already busy discussing about it and that I was late in making any comment. Then one Marina Sintoh drove by but stopped to inquire why my car was parked along a road that was not in the direction of Donggongon. After explaining, I asked whether she felt the earth move. She didn't but her children told her.

I sought for further information on the earthquake at Kinabalu. I followed news on events as they happened. It was reported that scores of people, including school children, had lost their lives while up in the mountain. Among those who perished were native mountain guides and school children from Singapore. The final count was eighteen deaths, including four mountain guides.

It later became known that the four of these guides died while trying to bring the tourists to safety. They lived in villages not far from Kinabalu such as Kiau. The deceased mountain guides together with the rest were hailed by the people as the real heroes during the tragedy.

The other mountain guides brought to safety the climbers who were still on the mountain. They, too, demonstrated total reliability. There was no further casualty.

News reporting criticised

The news reports seemed to portray that some people other than the mountain guides were responsible for bringing the stranded mountain climbers to safety. These people were seen live on television, carrying the
wounded climbers to waiting ambulances.

It was revealed later that the mountain guides had to make the difficult decision to bring down all the climbers the evening that the unexpected earthquake struck. The mountain continued to shake as they made their way down. The mountain guides succeeded to bring all the climbers down by about midnight.

The mountain guides decided not to wait until rescue came because they knew that it was not safe to remain in the mountain overnight. They had to make a new trail down the mountain as the existing ones had been destroyed and were unsafe to use.

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The Earthquake at Kinabalu is Anyone's Guess

Questions were asked why an earthquake at Kinabalu, Sabah happened. It was truly unexpected. Many used to believe that earthquake shouldn't occur here in Sabah. It had been said that that Sabah is not situated within the earthquake-prone area of the Pacific Ring of Fire. The earthquake was beyond anyone's imagination!

Nobody can predict what will happen in a certain place at a certain time. This is the way with nature. It was the same with the earthquake at Kinabalu. And so, people ask why Sabah experienced a heart-rending earthquake of 5.9 magnitude.

We can find at least two reasons put forward by different people why the earthquake struck.

Angry Spirits of Akinabalu

A few days before the tremor, a number of foreigners climbed the mountain, and stripped naked once they reached the summit. Why they did so, it was not known. Those who were brought to court did not volunteer to tell. Perhaps, it is best left untold.

Native shamans were convinced that the mountain spirits were angry at the behaviour of the visitors. The tremor was their way of making known their displeasure. The shamans or 'bobohizan / bobolian' decided to conduct rituals to cleanse the mountain and to appease the spirits of Akinabalu.

Will a violent earthquake at Kinabalu occur again in the future? It might, some believe but not a Kinabalu.

The writer had heard that there had been at least one previous incident where foreigners stripped naked while up in the mountain. The public did know this since no picture was shared through social media. The spirits did not get angry then. Thus, no earthquake at Kinabalu.

Scientific explanation

According to geologists, the entire face of the earth is inundated with fault lines. When any of these fault lines breaks, that particular place will experience an earthquake or a series of earthquakes. The extent of devastation depends on the magnitude of the earthquake and the earth composition in that particular area.

In the case of the Sabah earthquake, the fault line extends from Kota Belud to Ranau somewhere beyond Mount Kinabalu. It was stated that the earthquake was of 6.0 Magnitude at the time it struck. Some believed - probably erroneously - that this was deliberately stated as 5.9 to avoid Mt. Kinabalu losing its status as a safe place for the annual climbathon event.

Everyone can learn from the occurrence of the tragedy of the earthquake at Kinabalu. Two positive things came about as the result. Firstly, it was decided that the mountain guides be recognised as part of the rescue team. Secondly, the government said that the way buildings are constructed needs to take into consideration the occurrence of earthquakes in future.

Hereafter, the people of Sabah can no longer continue to entertain the idea that Sabah is free from earthquake. It does not matter whether any of the fault lines breaks or the spirits of the mountains are angry. If and when an earthquake is meant to strike, no one prevent it or can predict it.

The earthquake at Kinabalu may not repeat itself. Geologists predict that the next earthquake will occur somewhere around Lahad Datu. When? No one knows.

Mount Kinabalu as 'a temple and purgatory'?

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