Sabah quake: More bodies recovered and identification process still going on, says MOE

Sabah quake: More bodies recovered and identification process still going on, says MOE
Worried parents were reunited with their children on Saturday (June 6). The pupils had gone to quake-hit Mount Kinabalu on a school trip.

SINGAPORE - More bodies of victims of the Sabah earthquake were recovered by the Malaysian authorities on Saturday, the Education Ministry said late on Saturday night.

"The process of identification is still ongoing and we are unable to confirm the identities of the bodies," a ministry spokesman said in an update at 11pm.

So far, the ministry has only confirmed that a 12-year-old pupil of Tanjong Katong Primary School (TKPS) was killed in the quake.

The body of Peony Wee Ying Ping, accompanied by her family, will be flown back on Sunday.

Peony and 28 other children and eight teachers had gone to Mount Kinabalu for a school trip. They were on the mountain when the 6.0 magnitude quake struck on Friday morning.

Six pupils and two teachers are still missing.

The others who have been accounted for are either back in Singapore or will be back soon.

The ministry spokesman said: "We are making arrangements on the ground, and supporting the families of the students and staff of Tanjong Katong Primary School in every way possible."

Another two students and one teacher, who require more medical attention in Kota Kinabalu, will return to Singapore on Sunday.

An aunt of one of the missing pupils said on Twitter on Saturday night that the 12-year-old girl's body had been recovered at 8pm, but there has been no official confirmation on this.

The Education Ministry spokesman said the ministry and other government officials continue to be in Kota Kinabalu to provide assistance and support to the families during this difficult period.

Education Minister Heng Swee Keat, in a post just before midnight on Sunday, said that he had just finished meeting with officers at the MOE HQ, and that they were in close contact with the ministry ground team in Kota Kinabalu.

"My heart is heavy to learn that several bodies have been recovered. We're not able to confirm if they are our students and teachers - but whether they are our students and teachers or not, they are loved and missed by their families," he wrote.

Mr Heng added that: "I really appreciate the officers' dedication. I also appreciate Singaporeans standing together with us through this - your support means more to the families and our officers than you may know." Earlier on Saturday, Mr Heng received pupils and teachers from the school who made it back safely.

The first batch of pupils and teachers, who touched down on Saturday afternoon, were ushered into a private holding room at Changi Airport where their families were waiting. Tears of relief were shed and the children were seen hugging their parents.

At least one pupil was on a wheelchair with his leg in a cast.

TKPS principal Caroline Wu said at the airport: "On the ground, there have been MOE care officers rendering support to the students and teachers coming back as well as their families.

"With regard to those who are not accounted for yet, we are still doing our utmost best working with MOE and relevant ministries to reach out to them."

Emyr Uzayr, 12, one of the TKPS pupils who survived the earthquake, suffered a fractured skull, among other injuries. He was airlifted to Singapore in an air ambulance, according to a Facebook post early on Sunday morning by his father, Mr Sadri Farick.

Earlier on Saturday, Emyr was moved out of intensive care after being operated on at the Gleneagles Kota Kinabalu hospital.

But he is so traumatised by the events that he finds it hard to close his eyes due to flashbacks of the incident, said Mr Sadri.

"He saw things happening that I don't think I would like to describe, and now he doesn't want to close his eyes or even have a rest," Mr Sadri told the Straits Times.

Speaking at the hospital, the 37-year-old former police officer recounted how he anxiously waited for news about his son on Friday.

His wife was first informed at around 9am via a phone call from a teacher that Emyr had a minor leg injury. But it was not until 4.30pm that parents of students on the trip were asked to meet at the school, Mr Sadri said.

Emyr, who underwent a three to four hour operation on Saturday morning, was wheeled out of the intensive care unit at around 6pm.

Arrangements were being made to fly the boy back to Singapore via an International SOS air ambulance late on Saturday night.

Malaysian paper The Star quoted a pupil from TKPS on the scene during the quake. Amal Ashley Lim, 12, told the paper that keeping calm as the rocks rained down on her group near the summit saved her life.

A teacher bundled her and several other students under a shallow overhang for protection. They watched helplessly as some of her other schoolmates were struck by the falling rocks.

As they sheltered under the overhang, her friend started crying.

"I did my best to calm her."

When a teacher who went to look for the others did not come back after 15 minutes, Ashley started shouting for help. Her cries were heard by their guide James Michael who led her and her friends to safety.

Ashley was among the first in the group to complete the trek at about 7.15am, said The Star.

According to the Malaysian paper, efforts to bring down the bodies of climbers from Mount Kinabalu are being hampered as some are crushed and pinned under rocks and boulders.

"Many attempts had to be made to fly out the bodies," said a rescuer. So far, 11 bodies have been flown down from the mountain top to the base camp.

At least 13 were killed in the quake, the police chief of nearby town Ranau told news agency Agence France-Presse.

"There are 13 (dead) bodies. Two yesterday and 11 today. We've got six people still missing. I cannot confirm with you where they are from," Mr Mohammad Farhan Lee Abdullah said.

Malaysia's Foreign Ministry has set up a 24-hour operations room to aid those affected by the quake. The operations room can be contacted at +603-88874570 and +603-88892746.

This article was first published on June 7, 2015.
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