The Irrawaddy

Hpakant Landslides Continue to Kill

CHIANG MAI, Thailand — At least four jade prospectors have been killed and dozens are reportedly missing after a waste pile collapsed in jade-rich Hpakant on Friday night.

The collapse happened around 10:45 p.m., while prospectors searched the mining waste for gems.

It is the same location where deadly landslides happened in November 2015, claiming more than 100 lives.

Seik Mu village tract local U Shwe Thein told The Irrawaddy on Monday that four bodies were found on Saturday and that two injured men were being treated at the Hpakant Hospital.

The death toll estimated by locals at the Kan Kham jade mines in La Maung village of Seik Mu village tract, Lone Khin, is more than 40, U Shwe Thein said, but the search for bodies is likely to halt due to bad weather and the risk of further collapse in the area. Two bulldozers from a company called Kyauk Sein Taung were also buried in the collapse but later removed.

“There is a risk of further collapse. There were strong winds and rain on Sunday and authorities and elders at an emergency meeting advised that the search should be halted to avoid further loss [thought it resumed on Monday],” he said.

The Lone Khin police officer on duty told The Irrawaddy that four people were currently thought to be missing with the search ongoing.

Ko Khun Aung, a Hpakant resident, said a search was carried out over the weekend with at least five bulldozers combing the area for bodies but to no avail.

Hpakant jade mines – controlled by Myanmar Army troops and companies backed by both the Myanmar Army and the Kachin Independence Army – are vulnerable to landslides at mining waste sites sometimes piled hundreds of feet high.

The landslides continue and searches often stop after a few days. Many bodies are believed to be left uncounted under the waste.

“It is because we don’t have rule of law in the area, and the lives of prospectors who come from different parts of the country are not treated as valuable,” said U Shwe Thein.