Earlier this month, Ranau, Sabah was hit by a strong earthquake of about 6.0 magnitude, which lasted for 30 seconds. It was the strongest earthquake to have affected Malaysia since 1976, and it resulted in the tragic deaths of 18 people on Mount Kinabalu.
A natural disaster of this severity, which is quite unheard of in Malaysia, jolted Malaysians to the reality of how unprepared we are for such a situation. Our Facebook News Feeds were flooded with information about the heroic mountain guides, the damaged iconic Donkey’s Ears Peak of Mount Kinabalu, and updates about the foreigners who defiled the sanctity of the place.
Nearly 3 weeks later, while most of us have continued on with our busy lives or turned our attention to making sure that the foreigners “get what they deserve”, the people in Sabah have more pressing matters to deal with. To them, although the tragedy happened a few weeks ago, it feels like it was only just yesterday, and they are still dealing with the repercussions of the event.
To get a better understanding of the situation at the affected places in Sabah, I reached out to Veronica Atin, who lives in Kota Kinabalu. Veronica, born in Ranau and currently a lecturer at Universiti Malaysia Sabah, shared that she too is very much affected by the recent catastrophes in the affected areas, as most of her family and friends are there.
Plight Of The Evacuees
The places affected by the quakes, as shared by Veronica, are mostly villages surrounding the Kinabalu Mountain; Kundasang, and Kiau. “The continuous heavy rains in the past few days caused a mud-flood in some rivers in Ranau and Kota Belud, especially Sungai Kadamaian (Kota Belud), Sungai Mesilau (Kundasang), and Sungai Liwagu (Ranau town).”
“Many people lost their homes,” Veronica said to Vulcan Post.
The villagers, due to the mud-flood, had to be evacuated and they are temporarily residing at nearby community halls in Kundasang, Ranau, and Marakau.
“Since the first mud-flood on the 15th of June, the major issue has been clean water supply. In Kundasang and Ranau especially, water supply was interrupted due to the debris that were collected in the water treatment dam. In some villages, there are other alternatives (i.e., water from other sources), but the town area suffers a lot. There are no alternatives.”
“Another concern is the condition of the evacuees at the community halls. Everyone has to sleep in the open, no privacy for women and breastfeeding mothers. In some of the viral pictures, visitors didn’t take off their shoes and stepped on the sleeping mats of these victims.
There is also the issue of not having enough personal items. In Kundasang, because it is a small town, there are no shops selling underwear. Some people have to endure not having a change of underwear for days!”
Aki Nabalu’s Pain
As for the mountain, Veronica said, “It is badly affected. You can see from current pictures posted by people on Facebook that there are ‘scars’ all over its body. It will take a long time to restore it. The trails to get to the summit are damaged to the extent that they can’t be used anymore.”
It is quite obvious from her response that the people of Sabah have a strong connection to the mountain and when it ‘hurts’, they are hurting too.
Blessings In Disguise
This tragedy revealed the kind souls that are living amongst us Malaysians. Mountain guides, porters, volunteers, and others living near the mountain have been working selflessly to participate in the search and rescue team (SAR).
Veronica shared stories about sacrifice and love that came from various people, such as villagers who cancelled their Harvest Festival celebrations (for obvious reasons) to send Linopot (Traditional Dusun wrapped rice) to the volunteers in the SAR team; generous donations that have been sent to a donation centre in Kinabalu Park for the mountain guides since they are now without income; donors sending bottled water to Ranau to relieve their water crisis; Catholic churches all over in Sabah also sending bottled water to the St. Peter Claver’s Catholic Church for people in need in Ranau.
“That’s the beauty of us in Sabah. Solidarity trespasses the boundary of religions,” said Veronica.
“Healing” The Mountain
Currently, repair works to restore the mountain have begun. Porters are working to bring rubble and trash down the mountain to clear the path, and recruits have started on rebuilding the climbing trail from the 1.5km mark onwards to the summit.
The love Sabahans have for their mountain is overwhelming and no matter how it looks, it is still majestic to many.
Dealing With The Unknown
While volunteers and the people in the affected areas have to worry about their living conditions, getting clean water, and rebuilding their homes, they also have to deal with the constant fear of what’s next to come.
Few days ago on the 23rd of June, a weak earthquake of 4.3 magnitude occurred at Ranau and the tremors were felt in Kota Kinabalu, Kota Belud, Ranau, and Kundasang.
“The tremors still continue in Ranau, and can be felt in other parts of Sabah such as Kota Kinabalu sometimes. In Ranau, there are tremors almost every day since 05.06.2015. While people are getting used to it, there is the uncertainty of whether those tremors lead to a bigger one, hopefully not (fingers crossed or palis palis, as we say it here). A lot of people are traumatised.
“Even I, myself, who live in Kota Kinabalu experience nightmares about this. Many times I wake up after having just fallen asleep for half an hour or so, feeling that the bed is shaking and wondering whether it is real.”
Background of FoKMG
Friends of Kinabalu Mountain Guides is a Facebook page created on the 8th of June 2015, the day which was declared a mourning day for Sabah. This was done in memory of the four mountain guides who lost their lives protecting their climbers, and other climbers who were mostly children from Tanjong Katong Primary School in Singapore.
Veronica and a group of friends discussed how they can appreciate the mountain guides who showed courage and selflessness during the tragedy and came up with the idea of selling T-shirts to collect proceedings for the Association of Kinabalu Mountain Guides.
The Friends of Kinabalu Mountain Guides Facebook page was used to promote the T-shirts and provide updates about the mountain guides; however, with recent post-quake effects and the mud-flood, they were prompted to make use of the page to try to get more help for the victims and give constant, reliable updates, as good as they can.
Determined To Choose Positivity
With some negativity going around on social media about this catastrophe, Veronica chooses to remain positive and is determined to stay united with her people.
“In our time of troubles, there are still some negative perceptions from people who do not understand. Some make fun of the situation, implying that “it’s only a quake”, some imply that we in Sabah are bad people, that’s why bad things happen to us, etc.
But we choose to be positive and ignore the negativity. Most of us believe that love unites us all as Sabahans. We are good at looking after each other.”
I believe that the day Malaysia is truly one Malaysia, is the day that any one Malaysian—no matter race, religion, gender, social status, culture or background—can openly and boldly say, “We are good at looking after each other.”
Is it a farfetched dream? Perhaps. But it is one worth dreaming for and striving towards.