At least 10 people have been reported killed and dozens more are missing after a downpour triggered the collapse of a massive slag heap in Kachin State’s Hpakant Township on Monday night, in the latest deadly landslide to hit Burma’s notoriously unregulated jade-mining region.
The incident took place at a site operated by the Yadana Kyal Company in Hwayhka, a village in Hpakant’s Seikmu village-tract, that had been closed for the rainy season because of fears about the stability of its massive pile of mining waste.
According to Tint Soe, a lower house MP for Hpakant Township, the victims were jade scavengers who had entered the site at night hoping to find precious stones by sifting through the dumped earth.
“It was a suspended site and the scavengers went in there at night to search for stones when the mound collapsed at around 10pm. The pit itself was actually quite deep. Nine bodies were recovered at the scene and around 20 injured scavengers were sent to the hospital,” he said, adding that one more body was recovered on Tuesday morning and dozens of people are still missing.
He said rescuers were struggling to find the victims as they lacked the heavy machinery to dig through the rubble.
There are around 50 mining companies operating in Hpakant, which also attracts thousands of itinerant workers, many of whom subsist by digging through the mountain-sized heaps of discarded earth in search of scraps from the multi-billion dollar industry.
Despite various restrictions imposed by government authorities and the well-known danger of deadly landslides, incidents like this claim dozens of lives on a regular basis, as people flock to the region in a desperate bid to make a livelihood from one of Burma’s most lucrative industries.
Soon after winning last year’s elections, the now-ruling National League for Democracy promised to do more to regulate Hpakant’s lawless jade mines after a landslide in November 2015 claimed nearly 200 lives. So far, however, no major attempt has been made by the new government to address the issue.