At least 90 people have died in a huge landslide in a remote jade mining area of northern Myanmar, said officials.
Rescuers are still battling to dig through the mountains of loose rubble at the site in Hpakant on Sunday, as search teams continued to find bodies in one of the deadliest disasters to strike the country’s shadowy jade industry.
Dozens are still missing, most of them villagers who were sifting through a mountain of tailings and waste.
The region is home to some of the world’s highest quality jade, bringing in billions of dollars a year, though researchers say most of that money goes to individuals and companies tied to Myanmar’s former military rulers.
“We found 79 dead bodies on November 21 [and] 11 today so the total so far is 90,” said Nilar Myint an official from the local administrative authorities in Hpakant, northern Kachin, adding that the rescue operation was ongoing.
“We are seeing only dead bodies and no one knows how many people live there,” he told the AFP news agency.
Myint added that only one person had been pulled alive from the rubble, but had died soon after.
‘Biggest natural resources heist’
Landslides are a common hazard in the area as people living off the industry’s waste pick their way across perilous mounds under the cover of darkness, driven by the hope that they might find a chunk of jade worth thousands of dollars.
Informal miners risk, and often lose, their lives digging through scraps of the giant mines.
At least 10 people were killed in a landslide in the same area earlier this year.
A report by Global Witness, the transparency campaigner, says jade valued at $31bn was extracted from Myanmar mines last year, calling it “the biggest natural resources heist in modern history”.
But that figure is around 10 times the official $3.4bn sales of the precious stone last year, in an industry that has long been shrouded in secrecy with much of the best jade thought to be smuggled directly to China. AL JAZEERA