KOTA KINABALU, Malaysia (AFP) - Malaysian rescuers brought the last of 137 hikers down to safety on Saturday after an earthquake stranded them atop Mount Kinabalu, an official said, but media reports claimed that at least two people were killed.
The 6.0-magnitude quake struck near the picturesque mountain, a popular tourist destination, early on Friday, triggering landslides and sending huge granite boulders tumbling down the 4,095m peak's wide, jagged crown.
The quake, one of the strongest in the country in decades, jolted a wide area of the Malaysian state of Sabah on Borneo island, shattering windows, cracking walls, and causing other relatively minor damage.
"The 137 climbers have safely arrived at the Park HQ, the last batch at 2.50am (1850 GMT). We have a challenging task today searching for those missing," Sabah state tourism minister Masidi Manjun said on Saturday on his Twitter feed.
He did not specify how many were feared missing or dead, but a few hours earlier had tweeted "it is with much regret that I have to inform that there have been fatalities at Mt Kinabalu". He promised details on Saturday.
Authorities also have said previously that at least several people were injured but have not provided clear information.
However, Malaysian media reports said that a local tour guide and a woman believed to be Singaporean had been killed on the mountain.
The Kinabalu Today news portal quoted search and rescue personnel saying most of those who were on the mountain at the time of the quake were Malaysian.
But it said they also included hikers from Singapore, the United States, Philippines, Britain, Thailand, Turkey, China and Japan.
The stranded climbers had been stuck on the picturesque summit throughout Friday night, slowed by danger from continuing rockfalls and damage to a key trail.
Authorities were unable to reach them via helicopter due to bad weather and visibility.
The US Geological Survey had said the quake struck at a depth of 10 km, its epicentre located about 54 km east of Kota Kinabalu, the capital of Sabah.
No major damage was reported caused by the quake, which sent residents of the region fleeing in panic from homes and buildings, including Kota Kinabalu's International Airport, according to witnesses.
Authorities have closed Mount Kinabalu for climbing indefinitely.
Strong earthquakes are rare in Malaysia, which lies just outside the Ring of Fire, the belt of seismic activity running around the Pacific basin.