A Malaysian government official has blamed last week's deadly earthquake on a group of ten tourists whom he claimed "showed disrespect to [a] sacred mountain" by posing for photos naked at the summit last week.
Joseph Pairin Kitingan, the deputy chief minister for the Malaysian state of Sabah, told reporters Saturday that a special ritual would be conducted at a later date to "appease the mountain spirit." Meanwhile, authorities said that five of the ten climbers were believed to still be in Malaysia and would not be permitted to leave on grounds of gross indecency.
The foreigners, who included two Canadians, two Dutch and a German national, broke away from their group and stripped naked before taking photos at the mountain peak on May 30, officials have said.
Nicolas Doire, spokesman for Canada's Department of Foreign Affairs, said consular officials in Malaysia have contacted local authorities and are assisting the two Canadians who are among those barred from leaving Malaysia. Foreign Affairs would not confirm the identity of the Canadians, citing privacy concerns, but Malaysia's foreign affairs ministry identified them to The Canadian Press as siblings Lindsey Petersen and Danielle Petersen.
Friday's magnitude-5.9 earthquake sent rocks and boulders raining down the trekking routes on 13,435-foot Mount Kinabalu in eastern Sabah, on Borneo island. Sixteen people have been confirmed dead, with two others missing.
Nine of the bodies found Saturday were flown out by helicopter, while two were carried down, police said. State tourism minister Masidi Manjun said the victims were seven Singaporeans, six Malaysians, and a Filipino, Chinese and Japanese national each.
He said a Singaporean student and teacher were still missing. Singapore on Monday flew flags at half-staff to mourn the victims, part of a school outing to the mountain.
Most of the other climbers made it down the mountain in the darkness early Saturday, some with broken limbs and one in a coma.
Amanda Peter said local guides told her group of 21 climbers that a helicopter would pick them up, but they decided to walk out after a frustrating nine-hour wait.
"There were risks of us dying up there of cold overnight," said the 23-year-old Sabah native. "The guide said we either die of waiting or we die trying. So we all chose to try walking down ourselves."
She said she saw two bodies lying on a flat rock on the way down. "It really affected me as it could have been me. I was lucky to be given a chance to live," she said.
Masidi said in a tweet that "it's easy to pick on weaknesses" of the search-and-rescue operation and "I'm sure they are many." He said the shortcomings will be examined, but "now is not the time to blame."
The quake also damaged roads and buildings, including schools and a hospital on Sabah's west coast. It also broke one of the twin rock formations on the mountain known as the "Donkey's Ears."
The mountain will be closed for three weeks for maintenance work, and flags will be flown at half-staff in Sabah on Monday to mourn the victims.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.