MANDALAY — More than a dozen gem prospectors died when piles of mining waste collapsed in Kachin State’s Hpakant jade mining area, according to local authorities.
Local police told The Irrawaddy that the collapse happened Monday night at a Yadanar Kyel company excavation site, where at least 100 prospectors searched for leftover gem deposits.
“We’ve exhumed 13 bodies and sent 10 people who suffered injuries to receive medical care,” said a senior police officer from the Hpakant Township police station, adding that he believed the number would increase. He said police were trying to identify the deceased in order to inform their families.
Police said heavy rains had forced them to stop rescue efforts temporarily, but would resume when circumstances allowed. Weather and soil conditions could trigger another collapse, making the situation unsafe for rescuers.
According to locals, the waste pile collapsed suddenly after heavy rains, and gem collectors did not have time to run to safety.
“The soil was so soft and because it was dark, most of the gem collectors couldn’t run,” said La Taung, a local Hpakant miner.
Deadly landslides are not uncommon at mining sites in Hpakant Township, where a massive collapse in November killed over 100 people.
Hpakant Township residents staged protests in February, blocking dump trucks from depositing waste and calling for mining companies to improve safety in the area. Protestors called off the demonstrations after a week, when they participated in negotiations with local authorities and mining companies.
Mining companies agreed to follow waste piling rules and regulations and local authorities agreed to increase oversight and take stronger action. However, after the collapse on Monday, locals said they doubted that the mining companies had followed existing regulations.
“The authorities must take strict action to prevent further deadly incidents, because the upcoming monsoon season will naturally cause more collapses,” said local miner Aung Moe. “They need to check up on mining companies and warn prospectors before the situation worsens.”