World

Death toll in Myanmar landslide at 100 as search and rescue efforts continue

People looked through their destroyed homes after a landslide at Phakant jade mine, Kachin State, Myanmar.
Eleven Media Group via AP
People looked through their destroyed homes after a landslide at Phakant jade mine, Kachin State, Myanmar.

YANGON, Myanmar — The death toll in a landslide near a jade mine in northern Myanmar rose to about 100 people, and up to 200 others remained missing, officials said Sunday.

Most of the victims were villagers digging for jade in a mountain of displaced earth, a witness and a community leader said.

The collapse occurred Saturday evening in the Kachin state community of Hpakant, said Brang Seng, a jade businessman, who watched as bodies were pulled from the debris and taken to a hospital morgue.

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“People were crying,” he said, adding that some lost loved ones when boulders and earth ripped down the slopes. “I’m hearing that more than 100 people died. In some cases, entire families were lost.”

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Lamai Gum Ja, a community leader, said homes at the base of the mine dump had been flattened. An estimated 100 to 200 people were still missing, he said. Search and rescue teams combed through the rubble Sunday for survivors.

Kachin, around 600 miles northeast of Yangon, Myanmar’s biggest city, is home to some of the world’s highest-quality jade.

The industry generated an estimated $31 billion last year alone, with most of the wealth going to individuals and companies tied to Myanmar’s former military rulers, according to Global Witness, a group that investigates misuse of resource revenues.

The jade industry’s epicenter, Hpakant, remains desperately poor, with bumpy dirt roads, constant electricity blackouts, and sky-high heroin addiction rates.

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In the last year, dozens of small-scale miners have been maimed or lost their lives picking through tailing dumps.

“Large companies, many of them owned by families of former generals, army companies, cronies, and drug lords, are making tens or hundreds of millions of dollars a year through their plunder of Hpakant,” Mike Davis of Global Witness said.

Associated Press