A hillside of rock and debris sliding down into a crater, triggering a massive tsunami wave on a lake, was captured in shocking footage of a deadly landslide into a jade mine in Myanmar today (video courtesy of Youtube).
The landslide has killed at least 162 people and wounded another 54, emergency officials say, in one of the worst-ever accidents to hit the dangerous industry.
The landslide took place early today in the jade-rich Hpakant area of Kachin state after a spell of heavy rainfall, during the monsoon season.
Just before sunset, 162 bodies were recovered, and 54 injured people were transported to nearby hospitals, according to the local fire service department.
“The jade miners were smothered by a wave of mud,” a fire department spokesperson said.
Photos showed a search and rescue team wading through a valley apparently flooded by the mudslide.
Than Hlaing, a member of a local rescue group helping in the aftermath of the disaster, said those killed were informal workers scavenging the waste for jade stones left by a larger mining company.
“There’s no hope for the families to get compensation as they were freelance miners,” Hlaing said. “I don’t see any route to escape this kind of cycle. People take risks, go into landfills, as they have no choice.”
Government leader Aung San Suu Kyi pledged to clean up the industry when she took power in 2016, but insiders say little has changed.
A London-based environmental watchdog said the accident “is a damning indictment of the government’s failure to curb reckless and irresponsible mining practices in Kachin state’s jade mines”.
Authorised sales of jade in Myanmar are worth $750 m, according to data published by the government as part of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative.
But some experts believe the real value of the industry, which mainly exports to China, is about $31bn in 2014.
In recent years, mining in Myanmar’s Kachin state has gone industrial scale, controlled by Myanmar’s powerful military elite and backed by money from China. Northern Myanmar’s abundant natural resources – including jade, timber, gold and amber – have also helped finance both sides of a decades-long conflict between ethnic Kachin and the military.