Landslide Kills at Least 126 at Northern Myanmar Jade Mine
By Zarni Mann 2 July 2020
Mandalay – A landslide in the Hpakant jade mining region in Kachin State on Thursday has killed at least 126 prospectors.
The incident occurred near a former jade mine at the Myanmar Tagaung mining company in Waikhar village at about 8 am on Thursday.
According to the witnesses, about 30 meters of waste soil collapsed into a lake below where water had filled a former pit. The landslide created a large wave that hit other slopes.
“There are over 300 prospectors around the lake. The collapse created a huge wave which knocked off workers and waste soil,” Ko Tun Tun Oo, a prospector who witnessed the incident, told The Irrawaddy.
According to the rescue team, approximately 126 bodies have been exhumed and 31 others have survived with injuries.
A Hpakant firefighter, who is leading the rescue team, said: “We have found 126 bodies so far. We are still looking for the others as we heard there were about 300 prospectors working there. It is raining heavily and getting dark and we are afraid we might have to halt the rescue efforts.”
According to residents and the authorities, the Myanmar Taguang mine halted operations in late June due to heavy rain after an order from the Myanma Gems Enterprise to stop mining during the monsoon season.
The enterprise, which is controlled by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment Conservation, ordered on June 26 all Hpakant and Lone Kin mines to close until the end of September.
Landslides are common in Hpakant.
In April 2019, 59 people died when the sides of a muddy lake that had filled an abandoned mine gave way.
In July last year, 17 people died and two were injured in a landslide in a similar event at a different mine.
An environmental and rights group blamed poor law enforcement and poverty for the deaths.
“Although there are government orders on the systematic piling of the waste soil and other regulations, they are not implemented properly,” said Ko Naung Latt, the director of Green Land, an environmental group.
“Poverty also forces the prospectors and scavengers who look through the waste soil to work at any time so they are normally the victims in an accident,” he added. “The government needs to issue punishments and law enforcement officers should inspect the area.”
The Kachin State government said there are 19 landslides recorded in Hpakant and Lone Kin in 2019, with 93 deaths. This year until June, 30 deaths from landslides have been recorded.