KUNDASANG, June 7- Six Singapore primary school students and one teacher were among 16 people so far confirmed killed by an earthquake that rocked Malaysia’s Mount Kinabalu, government authorities said on Sunday.
Malaysian officials said the death toll from the earthquake that struck on Friday morning had risen to 16, from an earlier 13, with two still missing.
The Singaporean students were part of a school excursion to the popular climbing destination, which was jolted by a 6.0 magnitude quake just as the 4,095 metre high (13,435 foot) mountain was crowded with hikers.
The tremor triggered thunderous landslides that obliterated sections of trail on the peak, located in the state of Sabah on Borneo island.
Singapore Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam confirmed the bodies of six students had been identified.
Singapore’s government also has said a teacher and a Singaporean adventure guide perished, while another student and a teacher remained missing.
Malaysian officials have said the students were aged 12 and 13.
“Looking at the photos of these children — such young lives, full of promise, snuffed out,” Shanmugam said in a Facebook posting, calling the episode “Singapore’s tragedy in Sabah”.
Malaysian police say the dead or missing also include several Malaysians, and one each believed to be from China, Japan and the Philippines.
But they were yet to provide a detailed breakdown, saying the poor state of some remains made identification difficult.
Mohammad Farhan Lee Abdullah, police chief of the town of Ranau near the mountain, said body parts had been found on sections of the mountain, suggesting the awesome power of the landslides.
“They are in parts probably because of rocks and boulders falling on them but we need to do forensics first,” Mohammad Farhan said.
Singapore’s Straits Times newspaper said some of the Singaporean students were taking a route to the summit known as the Via ferrata, Italian for “iron road”, that traverses a steeply sloping rock face.
“Initial investigations show that the worst-hit area was at Via ferrata. There were many boulders that came down there,” Masidi Manjun, tourism minister for Sabah state, told reporters.
– Climber criticised rescue effort –
Rescuers Saturday had escorted down to safety 137 hikers who were stuck on the mountain for up to 18 hours by the rockfalls.
But an Australian climber accused Malaysian authorities of a slow and chaotic response.
“(Official rescue crews) were looking rather lost really, and it was the mountain guides who did most of the work attending to the injured, strapping people into stretchers, getting ready to take them down the mountain,” Vee Jin Dumlao told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
“The whole government emergency response was a farce,” she said, asking why hikers were not reached by helicopter.
Officials have said poor visibility made a helicopter mission dangerous.
Sabah state tourism minister Masidi Manjun said on Twitter: “It’s easy to pick on weaknesses of S&R effort and I’m sure they are many. Now is not the time to blame.”
Dozens of aftershocks have followed the main quake, including a Saturday afternoon 4.5-magnitude temblor.
Friday’s quake was one of Malaysia’s strongest in decades but there have not been any reports of major damage, nor any casualties outside of those at Mount Kinabalu.
Climbing has been suspended for at least three weeks so authorities can make repairs and assess safety risks.
Around 20,000 people complete the relatively easy climb each year.
Mount Kinabalu is sacred to the local Kadazan Dusun tribe.
Officials and social media users have blamed the quake on a group of 10 apparently Western men and women tourists who last weekend snapped nude photos at the summit and posted them on the Internet, saying the act angered tribal spirits.
Masidi said two Canadians had been detained but declined to identify them or say what charges they may face.