Officials said on Thursday that a landslide in a jade mine north of Myanmar killed at least 126 people and was afraid of more dead.
Miners were collecting stones in the jade-rich Hpakant region of Kachin province, the center of Myanmar’s secret jade industry, when the “rainy wave” hit them after heavy rain.
In the afternoon, rescue workers said they saved 126 bodies, but more were missing.
“Other bodies are in the mud,” says a local official from the ministry of information, Tar Lin Maung. “The numbers will increase.”
Deadly landslides and other accidents are common in poorly regulated Hpakant mines, which mostly attract poor workers from all over Myanmar to find stones for export to China. However, the accident on Thursday lasted more than five years.
In a crash in 2015, about 100 people died, which strengthened calls for regulating the industry. Another 50 people died in 2019.
Most of those killed are free “jade collectors” that remove waste – mining residues – for gemstones ignored by larger operators. A good jade stone worth tens of thousands of dollars can change their lives.
Video footage on social media showed that a crazy miner was racing uphill to escape as a rising pile of black waste pouring into a turquoise lake, shaking a tsunami-like mud wave.
Photos showed rows of dead bodies placed on a hill covered with canvas.
In a statement published online on Thursday evening, the chief commander of the armed forces, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, said military officers will continue their rescue efforts.
Maung Khaing, a 38-year-old miner from the region who witnessed the accident, said, “Run, run!” He said when he was about to take a photo of the hazardous waste mound he thought was set to collapse when he started yelling.
“Within a minute, all the people at the bottom (the hill) disappeared,” he told Reuters. “I feel empty in my heart. I still have goosebumps… There were people shouting for help in the mud, but no one could help them. “
He said from Hlaing, a member of a local civil society group after the disaster, that the killed were freelancers who were cleaning up waste left by a larger mining company.
He said that about 100 people are still missing and 30 were hospitalized.
A local official warned people not to go to the mine on Thursday due to bad weather.
“There is no hope of families receiving compensation because they are freelance miners.”
The Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi government promised to clear the industry when it came to power in 2016, but activists said little change.
According to data released by the government as part of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, official jade sales in Myanmar were worth 671 million euros ($ 750 million) in 2016-17.
But the rights group, Global Witness, said that trade is worth billions of dollars a year, armed clash between funds of government troops and ethnic Kachin rebels fighting for greater autonomy for the region.
The group described Thursday’s accident as a “preventable tragedy,” the group said, and said Suu Kyi’s management was unable to implement promised reforms to prevent “illegal and open mining practices.” A government spokesman did not answer phone calls by Reuters seeking comments.