Six people have been found alive the day after being buried by a collapsed mound of earth at a jade mine in northern Kachin State on Friday, though an unknown number of people are still missing.
The incident occurred at a site operated by PLO Company in Hpakant District’s Matmong village when a mound of previously excavated earth suddenly subsided.
“The mound collapsed because more and more earth was piled on top. It was over 200 feet tall,” a police official at Hpakant police station told DVB by phone.
“At the moment, the company and the government are continuing with a rescue operation. Only six men have been found so far – but are all alive.”
The officer said that the number of people killed or missing in the incident is still unknown. Most of those buried were independent workers, searching for valuable stones in the earth dumped by the mine operators.
Landslides are not uncommon in the area. Four people were killed in a similar incident in another Hpakant mine on 6 January this year. A reckless lack of regulation and equipment makes the work hazardous. Some say that the sites are more dangerous now because of capillary fracturing caused by explosives used in nearby corporate mines.
“There were cracks due to mining by companies with TNT. People dig along these cracks carelessly and then it happens,” said Tashila Seng, a Hpakant local talking to DVB after a landslide killed six in May of last year. “Some are killed, some hurt.”
He said that in areas near the Uru stream — such as Tawnkawt, Shan Su, Shakharaw and Myauk Phyu — accidents happen nearly once a week.
Kachin State is the one of the world’s last remaining sources for the rare and expensive jade stones. Approximately 50 companies have been granted permission to explore the Kachin hills and extract the stones, which are mostly exported to and refined in neighbouring China.
Local people, however, are not permitted to independently scavenge the territory, which they continue to do illicitly in hopes of a big score. The potential payoff is often considered well worth the risk of the extremely dangerous work, as job opportunities are rare in the remote and undeveloped region.