Landslide Sweeps Away Jade Miners, Others in Myanmar, Leaves at Least 70 Missing

A landslide at a jade mine in Myanmar's northern state of Kachin has left one person confirmed dead and at least 70 missing as search and rescue efforts continue, officials said.

Over 70 workers were mining for jade Wednesday morning when a pile of dirt and waste from other nearby mines slid off a cliff and fell about 200 feet onto the miners, sweeping many of them into a lake.

"About 150 rescue workers and firefighters are searching for the area, and we have found the body of a jade miner so far and keep finding others," Gayunar Rescue Team official Nyo Chaw told the Associated Press.

Three small shops containing at least five young women were reportedly buried in the landslide.

The disaster occurred in the mountainous region of Hpakant, which has some of the richest jade deposits in the world. Because of corruption related to the jade mining industry, the military had previously halted mining in the area, but some companies have been operating illegal mines.

The landslide's death toll could come close to that in other accidents in recent years if more of the miners are found dead.

In July 2020, at least 162 people died in a landslide in Hpakant, and a November 2015 accident killed 113. In the latter, a mountain of dirt and waste from other mines that measured up to 200 feet collapsed overnight and destroyed at least 70 huts where the workers were sleeping.

Myanmar, Jade Mine Landslide, Hpakant, Kachin State
After Wednesday's landslide, rescue team members search for missing people at a jade mining area in northern Myanmar. Associated Press

Reports were scant from the area in Hpakant, which is the center of the world's biggest and most lucrative jade mining industry. It's a region where sporadic fighting has broken out between the Myanmar army and ethnic guerrilla forces.

Hpakant is a mountainous and remote area in Kachin state, 600 miles north of Myanmar's biggest city, Yangon. A cease-fire in the region has been disrupted since a February 1 coup ousted Aung San Suu Kyi and her elected government.

The mines are also a main source of revenue for a Kachin ethnic armed group, the Kachin Independence Army, that is based in Kachin state.

According to an official of a civil society group in Hpakant, who asked not to be named out of fear for his safety, between 20 and 50 mining companies have been operating illegal mines.

Safety has long been a concern, and the suspension of licensing in recent years has spurred a rush of artisanal mining under even worse conditions.

Those killed in such accidents are usually freelance miners who settle near giant mounds of discarded earth that has been excavated by heavy machinery. The freelancers who scavenge for bits of jade usually work and live in abandoned mining pits at the base of the mounds of earth, which become particularly unstable during the rainy season.

Most scavengers are unregistered migrants from other areas, making it hard to determine exactly how many people are missing after such accidents and in many cases leaving the relatives of the dead in their home villages unaware of their fate.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Myanmar, Jade Mine Landslide, Hpakant, Kachin State
People watch as rescuers prepare to search for missing miners following Wednesday's landslide at a jade mine in Myanmar. STR/AFP via Getty Images