KUNDASANG (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - "I heard a woman screaming for help, I could not do anything. The earth was shaking," babbled a mountain guide.
"I had to get my group down fast because rocks were rolling down everywhere."
Shaken and in a state of shock, the guide had just led his group down to the safety of Timpohon Gate, one of the two main starting points for any climb to the peak.
When he reached the 1,866m site minutes earlier, he refused to answer any questions from newsmen. But he recalled what happened as people started to gather round.
"Boulders, some as big as a car, were crashing down along with rocks. We ran down.
"I really don't know what happened to the woman. She might be buried under rocks."
And his chilling story ended there as he moved away. He did not say who the woman was or give his name.
A tourist from Kuala Lumpur, Chan Wai Ha, 55, said it was her scariest experience.
"We were coming down when the earthquake occurred. It was so scary, we ran down but there were many people still up there," she said.
For 60-year-old Lee Yoke Fah, also from Kuala Lumpur, this will be the last time he climbs the mountain. It was his fourth time on Friday.
"I always enjoyed the climb but I have never experienced this. It was really frightening. I will not climb again," he said.
Student Amal Ashley Lim, 12, said 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.
Ashley was among 29 students and eight teachers from the Tanjong Katong Primary School in Singapore who trekked up the mountain. She was among the first in the group to complete the trek at about 7.15am.
"That's when everything started shaking," she said.
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. The Singapore Education Ministry issued a statement saying even pupils and two teachers were still unaccounted for.
More than 50 climbers made it back to Timpohon Gate following the quake. Several families were waiting at the Kinabalu Park headquarters, some 6km from Timpohon Gate, for news of their kin. They went there after finding out about the earthquake.
Sahia Boliking, 55, said her son was one of the climbers and there was no word yet on whether he was safe.
"We tried calling Boy on his handphone but there's no answer," she said, choosing to use only her son's pet name.
The family is worried because a guide told them that he last saw Boy when everyone was running for their lives.
"I hope he is fine," she said, wiping away her tears. "It is going to be dark in a couple of hours."
Boy's girlfriend, who wanted to be known as Darling, said she found out about the quake on Facebook.
"I will not go home until he comes back," she said.
Several other families also waited. Larry M, 18, who did not want to give his full name, said his brother was on the mountain. His brother is an avid climber and a trainer, he said.