RANAU - Malaysia's first mountain search and rescue unit has been set up at Mount Kinabalu with 20 auxiliary firemen, all of whom are mountain guides.
The Mountain Search and Rescue (Mosar) unit was launched by Housing and Local Government Minister Abdul Rahman Dahlan, who said it would be based at the Ranau fire station.
Datuk Abdul Rahman said its strength would eventually be increased to 100, adding that search and rescue efforts would also be improved with the deployment of two more Mi-171 helicopters.
"The auxiliary firemen for the unit will be recruited from among Mount Kinabalu guides. Their knowledge of the mountain and the skills they will learn in training will enable them to better handle natural disasters such as earthquakes," he said.
Their training, he added, would cover first aid, search and rescue methods, basic forest fire-fighting, and the use of protective gear and specialised equipment for mountain rescue.
Mr Abdul Rahman said that by serving as auxiliary firemen, the guides would be able to earn additional income while on duty.
"As auxiliary firemen, they will be paid RM6 (S$2) per hour, which would add up to about RM500 per month," he said.
Noting that the guides could earn as much as RM1,500 by escorting climbers up the mountain, he said this meant their monthly income would now increase to about RM2,000.
Veteran mountain guide Moidin Sompot, 57, was among those who signed up as Mosar auxiliary firemen.
The Bundu Tuhan native said he was looking forward to his training.
"With additional skills, I can do more in emergencies," said Mr Moidin who, like other guides, shepherded stranded climbers to safety after an earthquake earlier this month damaged existing trails.
The imposing Mount Kinabalu seems to have lost some of its allure in the aftermath of the 5.9-magnitude earthquake that struck on June 5. Its eastern and western faces have been badly scarred by a series of landslides and rock falls since the quake, which some say has robbed the mountain of the natural beauty that had awed visitors for decades.
"It looks like it has been clawed," said Bundu Tuhan resident Emily Joseph in Malay. The village is located in the foothills of Mount Kinabalu.
Mr Johnny Ghani, coordinator of the Mount Kinabalu Council of Elders, said that it was a distressing time for people to see their sacred mountain ravaged in such a manner. "I just hope that things will improve from now on," he said.
The earthquake struck the western face of Mount Kinabalu, killing 18 climbers and guides, including 10 Singaporeans, when large boulders rained down, destroying at least three rest houses on the summit trail in the process. One of the pinnacles of Kinabalu's iconic "Donkey's Ear" peak also broke off.
A powerful 5.1-magnitude aftershock on June 12 shook the mountain further. Heavy rains followed, bringing down boulders and uprooting trees in mudslides. Hundreds of villagers at the foothills of the mountains on the eastern and western faces were evacuated.
The weather has improved in the past few days, bringing a degree of calm to the displaced villagers, who have returned to their homes.
However, the authorities remain on standby to evacuate them in the event of heavy rain that may trigger more mud flows and rock slides.
THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK