Death Toll Rises to 104 at Jade Mine Collapse in Hpakant

By Nyein Nyein 23 November 2015

Recovery of bodies at the site of a massive jade mine landslide in Kachin State’s Hpakant Township continued on Monday, with the death toll rising to 104 by the evening prior.

The landslide happened early Saturday morning when the piled tailings from a large-scale mining operation collapsed, burying an estimated 80 huts in an area where hand-pickers had settled to sift through the debris in search of the precious stone.

Dah Shi La Seng, a Kachin State legislature MP-elect for Hpakant constituency, said the search for bodies was continuing and progress would be known later Monday, with many still missing.

“As of Sunday evening at 6 pm, the total number [of deaths] reached to 104, as 26 more bodies were found on Sunday and 78 bodies were found on Saturday,” the incoming National League for Democracy (NLD) lawmaker said, adding that most of the bodies recovered were men, with about three being women.

Among the dead, most are internal immigrants who had traveled to Hpakant to try their luck at small-scale, illegal mining in the jade-rich region.

The disaster, near Hpakant’s Seik Mu village, is the fourth such incident to claim lives this year, according to local resident Shwe Thein, though Saturday’s catastrophe far eclipsed previous landslides.

“About two-thirds of the bodies of the hand-pickers are not yet identified, but the bodies are of those hand-pickers and local vendors around the mines,” he said.

The bodies are being taken to the Hpakant hospital first to record the deaths before being sent to two villages and Hpakant town for burial, Shwe Thein said.

An uptick in deadly collapses of mining debris has been linked to the government’s decision to allow companies to resume large-scale mining operations in the area in 2014, after suspending the practice in 2012 amid fighting between the government and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA).

About a dozen people died due to landslides in the same area between January and March of this year.

“This is the biggest, deadliest accident affecting those hand-pickers,” Shwe Thein said.

“Not only in terms of people’s deaths, our environment too has been destroyed a lot by the waste pilings,” Shwe Thein added, highlighting rising pollution affecting the Uru River.

Locals and environmentalists say the once pristine Uru River, which flows into the nearby Chindwin River, has become contaminated with wastewater runoff from mining sites and has also seen its water level drop.