Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Drawing lessons from Mount Kinabalu tragedy

THEY may be gone but are never forgotten. One year has passed since the tragedy of the Mount Kinabalu earthquake, but the memory is still etched in the minds of the affected residents, survivors, families of victims, “malim gunung” (mountain guides) and other Malaysians.

They remember the day like it was yesterday. On June 5 last year, Mt Kinabalu and the surrounding districts were jolted by a series of earthquakes, which started at 7.15am with an earthquake measuring 5.8 on the Richter scale.

Eighteen climbers, including four mountain guides, were killed when the earthquake rocked the mountain. On that day, there were 195 people on Mount Kinabalu, an iconic and spiritual symbol of the people of the Land Below The Wind.

Although life is slowly returning to normal with the mountain trails opened to the public and tourists flocking to highland destinations in Sabah, the scars of the tragedy will never fade, just like the 2004 tsunami which claimed more than 250,000 lives in 14 countries, including Malaysia.

The trauma of the climbers, guides and rescuers is felt until today, while the families of the victims are still coming to terms with the tragedy.

The mountain guides were the real heroes who put their own lives at risk and four of them died while protecting climbers during the earthquake. In fact, they were among the first killed in that tragedy.

The guides, who knew the area well, had done the main rescue work by cutting temporary trails through the devastated mountain landscape to bring climbers down the mountain. They risked life and limb to save the lives of others.

The sacrifices of these unsung heroes should be forever remembered and their roles and contributions recognised and appreciated.

For the guides who died in the earthquake — Valerian Joannes, Ricky Masirin, Robbie Sapinggi and Joseph Solungin — they will always be in our hearts.

The disaster has shown that Malaysia can no longer be regarded as being free from natural disaster. It is time for the country to establish a centre that pools domestic and foreign expertise to provide an emergency response plan for any disaster. This should be a priority for Sabah, which is prone to such natural disaster.