Officials in Kachin State’s Hpakant Township say that at least 13 people have been killed by the latest landslide to hit the jade-mining region.
According to Tin Min, the deputy-chairman of the Hpakant branch of the National League for Democracy, the incident occurred when a slag heap in the village of Bazanchauk collapsed at around 9pm on Thursday after becoming wet from recent heavy rainfall.
The dead were believed to small-time miners scavenging for pieces of jade in the massive pile of earth dumped by a local mining company. Relief workers had recovered 13 bodies from the site by Friday afternoon.
“The mound on the work site of the Triple One company collapsed when it became soaked with rain water [Thursday] evening. Altogether, about 20 scavengers were crushed underneath, and so far we have recovered 13 bodies,” said Tin Min.
“The bodies were disfigured beyond recognition, so they can only be identified forensically at the morgue,” he added.
Military personnel, local police and government officials are all taking part in the relief effort, working together to recover the remaining bodies, he said.
Hpakant’s largely unregulated mining industry produces billions of dollars worth of jade every year, almost all of it for the Chinese market. Many of the largest operators have connections to the Burmese military, local drug lords or ethnic armed groups.
There are a total of around 600 mining companies operating in Hpakant’s jade mines, and countless individuals who risk their lives searching for pieces of jade discarded in slag heaps. Last year, there were at least six major landslide incidents, including one that killed more than 100 people.
Heavy rainfall has also recently triggered landslides in other areas of Kachin State. In Hsawlaw Township, local villagers are facing food shortages after landslides earlier this week closed roads and completely destroyed two villages, leaving more than 100 families homeless.