Hopes fade for 100 miners missing after landslide near Myanmar jade mine

by Reuters
Monday, 23 November 2015 03:44 GMT

Hand-pickers search for jade through rubble dumped by mining companies at a jade mine in Hpakant township, Kachin State July 7, 2013. REUTERS/Minzayar

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Mines and soil dump sites are hazardous and deaths among workers picking through the slag piles for jade are common

* Landslide hit makeshift settlement as workers slept

* Hopes of finding survivors fade

* Rescue worker estimates around 100 missing

By Aung Hla Tun

YANGON, Nov 23 (Reuters) - Hopes faded on Monday that any of 100 people still missing would be found alive two days after a landslide near a jade mine in northern Myanmar smashed into a makeshift settlement, burying mine workers as they slept.

Rescue workers had recovered 104 bodies when the search was suspended on Sunday night, state newspaper the Global New Light of Myanmar reported on Monday.

It is unclear what caused a mountain of mining debris to give way early on Saturday in Hpakant, a mountainous area in northern Kachin State that produces some of the world's highest-quality jade.

The mines and soil dump sites are hazardous and deaths among workers picking through the slag piles for jade are common.

RELATED: Myanmar jade mining drives rights abuses, disasters and war

An estimated 100 people are still missing, according to officials in the region, and the death toll was expected to rise as the search resumed on Monday, said Tin Swe Myint, head of the Hpakant Township Administration Department.

"We just don't know how many people exactly were buried since we don't have any data on people living there," he told Reuters by telephone on Sunday. "It was just a slum with these ... workers living in makeshift tents."

Workers, many of them migrants from elsewhere in Myanmar, toil long hours in dangerous conditions searching for the precious stones.

Ko Sai, a miner who was at a nearby camp, said the landslide hit around 3 a.m., when many miners were sleeping.

"We just heard a loud noise sounding like thunder and saw that the huge mountain collapsed and a huge wave of rubble was moving and sprawling on a wide area," Ko Sai said.

"It was just like a nightmare," he said.

Several companies had dumped mining debris at the 200-acre dump site, said Tin Swe Myint. The dump was near a mine controlled by the Triple One Jade Mining Company, he said.

Much of the jade that is mined in Hpakant is believed to be smuggled to neighbouring China, where the stone is highly valued.

The value of jade production in Myanmar is estimated to have been around $31 billion in 2014, according to researchers from environmental advocacy group Global Witness, which published a report on the opaque sector earlier this year.

(Writing by Timothy McLaughlin; Editing by Simon Webb and Paul Tait)

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