A landslide at a jade mine in northern Myanmar has killed at least 113 people, authorities say, warning that the death toll is likely to rise further. The incident took place early Thursday in the japa-rich Hpakant area of Kachin state after a heavy rain, the Myanmar Fire Services Department said on Facebook.
“The jade miners were suffocated by a wave of mud,” the statement said. “A total of 113 bodies have been found so far,” he added, increasing the death toll from at least 50. Photos posted on the Facebook page showed a search and rescue team wading through a valley apparently flooded by the landslide.
‘No one could help them’
Maung Khaing, a 38-year-old miner from the area, said he saw a pile of trash that looked like it was on the verge of collapse and was about to take a photo when people started yelling “run, run!”
“In a minute, all the people at the bottom [of the hill] just disappeared,” he told Reuters news agency by phone.
“I feel empty in my heart. I still have goose bumps … There were people trapped in the mud screaming for help, but no one could help them.”
Tar Lin Maung, a local information ministry official, said authorities had recovered more than 100 bodies.
“Other bodies are in the mud. The numbers are going to increase,” he told Reuters.
Fatal landslides are common in the poorly regulated mines of Hpakant, often the victims of impoverished communities risking their lives in search of the translucent green gemstone. Myanmar government leader Aung San Suu Kyi has vowed to clean up the industry when he took power in 2016, but activists say little has changed.
Official jade sales in Myanmar were worth $ 750.4 million in 2016-2017, according to data released by the government as part of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative. But experts believe that the true value of the industry, which mainly exports to China, is much higher.
Northern Myanmar’s abundant natural resources, including jade, wood, gold and amber, have also helped fund both sides of a decades-long conflict between the Kachin and the military. The fight to control the mines and the revenues they bring in frequently traps local civilians in the middle.