Dozens of people are missing and feared dead after a landslide hit a remote jade mining region in Myanmar’s restive Kachin State, officials said Thursday.
The landslide occurred late Wednesday when a 400-foot (122-meter) cliff of debris and waste soil collapsed in Hpakant Township of northern Kachin.
Tin Tun Aung, a local police officer, told Anadolu Agency that a rescue team started search operations Thursday morning by digging up the landslide.
“Witnesses reported to us that about 30 or 40 workers were searching for scraps of jade or something precious from the pile of debris when it collapsed,” he said by phone.
“We don’t know yet if there are dead people inside or not,” he said, adding that eight people were injured in the landslide.
The Hpakant area, the epicenter of a jade industry located around 600 miles (966 kilometers) northeast of Myanmar’s biggest city Yangon, has seen about ten landslides since October, when jade mine companies resumed operations at the end of the rainy season.
Deadly landslides are a common hazard in Kachin’s jade and gold mining industry as people living off the industry’s waste pick their way across perilous mounds under the cover of darkness, driven by the hope they might find a chunk of jade worth thousands of dollars.
At least 115 people were killed in a massive landslide in November last year, just days after the long-time opposition party National League for Democracy won the election in a landslide.
According to Myanmar Red Cross Society, more than 300 people were killed in 38 landslides at jade mines in Kachin last year.
The current government, led by State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi, has pledged to tighten safety measures, however the jade industry is dominated by companies linked to leaders of the previous military government and ethnic rebel armies.
An anti-corruption non-governmental organization, Global Witness, released a report in October last year revealing that the country made around $31 billion in jade exports last year, much of it untaxed.
The report, titled Jade: Myanmar’s Big State Secret, alleged that the country’s “political elite” — closely tied to the former junta — were directly involved in the industry.