Fri | Aug 7, 2020

Landslide at Myanmar mine kills at least 123 people

Published:Thursday | July 2, 2020 | 9:24 AM
In this photo released from Myanmar Fire Service Department, rescuers carry a recovered body of a victim of a landslide from a jade mining area in Hpakant, Kachine state, northern Myanmar Thursday, July 2, 2020. (Myanmar Fire Service Department via AP)

HPAKANT, Myanmar (AP) — At least 123 people were killed Thursday in a landslide at a jade mine in northern Myanmar, the worst in a series of deadly accidents at such sites in recent years that critics blame on the government’s failure to take action against unsafe conditions.

The Ministry of Information said 123 bodies were recovered from the landslide in Hpakant, the centre of the world’s biggest and most lucrative jade mining industry.

The most detailed estimate of Myanmar’s jade industry said it generated about $31 billion in 2014.

Hpakant is a rough and remote area of Kachin state, 950 kilometres or 600 miles north of Myanmar’s biggest city, Yangon.

“The jade miners were smothered by a wave of mud,” said a statement from the Myanmar Fire Service Department, which coordinates rescues and other emergency services.

The army also took part in the recovery operation along with other government units and local volunteers.

The London-based environmental watchdog Global Witness said the accident “is a damning indictment of the government”s failure to curb reckless and irresponsible mining practices in Kachin state’s jade mines.”

“The government should immediately suspend large-scale, illegal, and dangerous mining in Hpakant and ensure companies that engage in these practices are no longer able to operate,” it said in a statement.

At the site of the tragedy, a crowd gathered in the rain around corpses shrouded in blue and red plastic sheets placed in a row on the ground.

Emergency workers had to slog through heavy mud to retrieve bodies by wrapping them in the plastic sheets, which were then hung on crossed wooden poles shouldered by the recovery teams.

Khin Maung Myint, a lawmaker from Hpakant, earlier said that in addition to the dead, 54 other people were injured and sent to hospitals. An unknown number of people were feared missing.

Social activists have complained that the profitability of jade mining has led businesses and the government to neglect enforcement of already very weak regulations in the jade mining industry.

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