MANDALAY — At least 20 prospectors were killed and several remain missing after a waste pile collapsed in the Lone Khin jade mining region of Kachin State on Saturday.
Dozens of people were injured in the incident.
The waste pile near a mine operated by Maha Mining Co. in Lone Khin’s Waikhar jade mining area collapsed as about 100 prospectors were searching it for jade residues on Saturday, according to local authorities.
“Fifteen bodies were unearthed and 45 people were injured. Eighteen people with serious injuries were sent to the Myitkyina General Hospital, while those with minor injuries were treated at hospitals in Lone Khin and Hpakant,” the duty officer at the Lone Khin police station told The Irrawaddy.
Police officials said the rescue operation was ongoing, adding that heavy rain may have triggered the collapse. The regional administration office provided some financial support to the victims’ families.
According to local witnesses, more than 100 prospectors were on the waste pile when it collapsed. They said the death toll was likely to rise above 15, as there were still people missing and several of the injured are in serious condition.
“We’ve heard that 10 people are missing and we’ve reported this to the rescue team. The death toll could go higher, as the rescuers are still looking for the missing. Hopefully, there will be no rain and the rescuers will be able to do their jobs and find the bodies,” said Ko Nawng Latt, director of Green Land, a local environmental conservation group.
Waste pile collapses are common in the Hpakant and Lone Khin jade mining region, and have claimed the lives of many small-time prospectors who search the huge hills of soil for jade residues.
Collapses are especially frequent in the monsoon season, when the region receives heavy rain and the earth is softened. However, financial need causes the prospectors to risk their lives and search the piles despite the danger.
Local civil society groups involved in environmental conservation in the Hpakant and Lone Khin region said the lack of rule of law in the region means more such incidents are likely.
“Local authorities are weak [on enforcing regulations]; their own security is at risk due to the many armed groups operating in the region,” Ko Nawng Latt said.
“The mining companies take advantage of the lawlessness of the region and do not follow the mining rules and regulations. Moreover, as long as the prospectors are willing to risk their lives to search for jade residues, such incidents will continue,” he added.