At least 113 bodies pulled from mine landslide in Myanmar

At least 113 bodies pulled from mine landslide in Myanmar

YANGON - Agence France-Presse
At least 113 bodies pulled from mine landslide in Myanmar

Soldiers and rescue workers search for the bodies of miners killed in a landslide in a jade mining area in Hpakhant, in Myanmar's Kachin state on November 22, 2015. AFP photo

Rescuers continued their search for victims of a huge mine landslide in northern Myanmar on Nov. 23 as the toll passed 100 in a disaster highlighting the perils of the country’s secretive billion-dollar jade trade.

Authorities in the remote town of Hpakant, the epicenter of the world’s production of highly valuable jade, have pulled 113 bodies from the earth since a huge mountain of debris collapsed onto dozens of flimsy shacks early on Nov. 21 morning.    

While recovery operations continued, desperate rescuers had little hope of finding survivors with only dead bodies pulled from the rubble on Nov. 23.  

Those killed are thought to be mainly itinerant workers, who scratch a living picking through the piles of waste left by large-scale industrial mining firms in the hope of stumbling across a previously missed hunk of jade that will deliver them from poverty.

“First we kept the bodies in Hpakant hospital but there were so many it could not hold them all so we arranged to burn them at the cemetery,” said Dashi Naw Lawn, of Kachin Network Development Foundation, a community group helping with the search.

Hpakant Township Administrator Tint Swe Myint said the total toll had risen to 113, with eight more bodies retrieved from the rubble on Nov. 23.

“We will go on searching tomorrow,” he told AFP.

Officials in the area have said they do not know precisely how many people are missing because they did not have figures for the number of workers living in the ad hoc slum area.

But the state-backed Global New Light of Myanmar newspaper said “many more people are still missing” after the accident

The landslide is thought to be the deadliest in recent memory in the hard to reach and impoverished area of northern Kachin state bordering China, where locals say scores of workers have died this year alone in frequent landslides.

Myanmar is the source of virtually all of the world’s finest jadeite, a near-translucent green stone that is enormously prized in neighboring China, where it is known as the “stone of heaven.”

The Hpakant landscape has been turned into a moonscape of environmental destruction as firms use ever-larger diggers to claw the precious stone from the ground.  

But while mining firms, many linked to the junta-era military elite, are thought to be raking in huge sums, local people complain they are shut out from the bounty.