At least 27 people are missing and feared dead following the collapse early Tuesday of a slag heap at a jade mine in northern Myanmar’s Kachin state, with heavy rains hampering recovery efforts, sources in Myanmar said.
A search is now being carried out with backhoes in the Sait Mu village group of Kachin’s Hpakant township, site of the collapse, village official Maung Ngwe told RFA’s Myanmar Service on Wednesday.
“The work is being led by the General Administrative Department, together with the fire department, the Red Cross, and civil society organizations, but no one has been found yet,” Maung Ngwe said.
“We have put ‘Danger Zone’ signboards up all around the area,” he said.
Quoting witnesses at the scene, media reports said that as many as 40 migrant workers, most from the Rawang ethnic group, may actually have been lost in the collapse, the latest in a string of deadly mining-waste landslides that have occurred in recent years in Hpakant.
On July 14, 22 migrant workers were killed, with 63 injured and four left missing, following a landslide at a mine site in Hpakant, while in May, at least 13 migrant workers were killed and eight injured by a collapsing slag heap as they scavenged jade remnants at another Hpakant mine.
In November 2015, at least 115 migrant miners died when a 200-foot mountain of dirt and mine waste collapsed on a makeshift settlement of miners’ huts.
That deadly accident prompted calls for reform, and in August 2016, Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation Minister Ohn Win said the government planned tougher controls, including suspending the renewal of mining licenses and checking the entrances to the mining areas for illegal migrant workers in an effort to stop the scavengers.
Hpakant, which lies about 400 miles (640 kilometers) north of Myanmar’s capital Naypyidaw, is the center of the country’s jade mining industry and produces some of the highest-quality jade in the world.
Much of the gem is exported or smuggled to neighboring China, where demand for the precious stone is high.
As many as 300,000 outside workers will gather in Hpakant during the rainy season each year to search for jade, which they can easily see on the banks of slag cast off from mining, local resident Zaw Moe Htet told RFA in an earlier report.
“So they go to look for jade even in heavy rain, and then the landslides happen.”
“Jade mining companies don’t follow rules and regulations, and the authorities don’t take action against them. That’s why so many people are killed every year,” he said.
Reported by Kyaw Myo Min for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Richard Finney.