Rescuers leading search and rescue operations at the site of yesterday’s landslide in a Hpakant jade pit say they have only managed to recover two bodies from the rubble. Close by, four further corpses have been retrieved from the site of another landslide which hit on Dec. 18, said Ko Jack, a member of the local rescue team.
“We are working together in six search groups. We searched almost all day yesterday, and finished work in the evening, but we found only two bodies,” he said.
The landslide occurred when a 200-foot-high pile of mining waste collapsed at the Sein Sein Company’s Old Mining Block in Thayar Gone village early Wednesday morning.
“According to two men who escaped from the landslide, there were about over 50 people under the landslide, including two girls who were vendors. But, the two bodies are only male that we found and some of the families are waiting to see the bodies,” Ko Jack told DVB, who said that a small number of pickers survived after jumping into a lake that had formed at the base of the mining pit.
Yesterday, local sources at the pit-side told DVB that they believed over 100 people had been subsumed by the landslide.
The exact number of people missing is still unclear as nobody is tasked with taking a daily census of those working illegally in Hpakant’s mines. A local man told DVB that compiling such a list would be impossible.
The only way to gauge the impact of yesterday’s disaster is by counting those who have travelled to the mines in the hope of good news. Yesterday, local sources say that between 30 and 40 families waited in vain by the side of the pit, praying for the return of missing loved ones.
Rescue teams said that, after recovering only four bodies from an earlier landslide on Dec. 18, they would shift energies to recovering Wednesday’s dead. This latest landslide had added to the mining waste entombing the victims, Ko Jack said.
“Today’s disaster is a haunting reminder that lives too often come second to profit in the jade mines of Hpakant, where a toxic combination of lawlessness, conflict and corruption has set the stage for yet another preventable tragedy,” said Hanna Hindstrom, Senior Campaigner at human rights NGO, Global Witness.
“Hpakant has become a haven for illegal mining under the auspices of military battalions, police and armed groups who work together to extract fees from miners.”
The two landslides are merely the last tragedies to hit Hpakant’s mining communities. On July 2, 2020, between 150 to 200 people were killed when heavy rains triggered a similar toppling of a pile of mining waste. The accident is commonly viewed as Burma’s worst ever industrial disaster.
Hpakant—whose gemstones are an extremely important source of under the table lucre for the junta and its cronies—has seen a surge in conflict since the coup, with the junta imposing an internet blackout on the township since August.