- “The jade miners were smothered by a wave of mud, which hit after heavy rainfall,” the fire fighters said.
- Most of the victims are said to be locals who sift through tailings in search of small bits of the semi-precious stone.
- The government has been blamed for failure to take into consideration the unsafe conditions in the mining areas.
At least 162 have been killed following a massive landslide in a jade mine in northern Myanmar. Firefighters said that they had recovered the bodies, and added that 54 people who had been injured were taken to hospital for treatment. They revealed that more people could still be trapped in the mud.
“The jade miners were smothered by a wave of mud, which hit after heavy rainfall,” the fire fighters said. It is considered the jade mining industry’s worst ever disaster. It surpassed a 2015 accident that killed 113 people.
Most of the victims are said to be people who sift through tailings in search of small bits of the semi-precious stone. “All the casualties are local jade scavengers,” the firefighters added. “The miners were collecting stones when a muddy wave caused by heavy rain buried them.”
Rescue operations are still ongoing although the process has been made difficult by the fact that heavy machinery could not be used in the area. It is alleged that the people had been warned against going to the mines due to the heavy rains.
Earlier, Myanmar’s Gem Enterprise had ordered jade mining companies to suspend their operations for three months beginning this month due to the heavy rains experienced during the monsoon season.
Video footage showed helpless miners racing uphill in an effort to escape the heap of mining waste that cascaded into a lake burying many other miners. A witness said that he was about to take a photo of precious mound that he felt was about to collapse when he heard people shouting.
“Within a minute all the people at the bottom just disappeared,” he said. “I feel empty in my heart. I still have goose bumps . . . There were people stuck in the mud shouting for help but no one could help them,” he added.
The government has been blamed for failure to take into consideration the unsafe conditions in the mining areas. “The government should immediately suspend large scale, illegal and dangerous mining in Hpakant and ensure that companies that engage in these activities are no longer able to operate,” said a statement from Global Witness, a London based environmental watchdog.
The United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres sent his condolences to the families of the victims and the government, adding the UN was ready to address the needs of the affected population.
The tragedy occurred in Kachin State, which is the center of the world’s jade mining industry, and is about 600 miles north of Yangon, the country’s largest city. In 2014, Myanmar’s jade industry was estimated to be worth $31 billion.
Deadly landslides are a common occurrence in the poorly regulated Hpakant area in Kachin state. Most of the residents here make a living through jade scavenging. When taking power in 2016, the government of Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel Laureate, had pledged to clean up the mining industry, but nothing much seems to have changed.