At least 162 people are confirmed dead and several more missing after a heap of mining waste swept through a jade mine in northern Myanmar, burying many workers under mud and water.
Workers had been collecting stones in a mountainous area of Kachin state, the heart of the country’s lucrative but notoriously dangerous jade industry.
Images from the Facebook page of Myanmar’s fire service showed a rescue team pulling bodies out of the mud and carrying them up a steep rock face that appears to be flooding.
The Fire Department noted that heavy rain had forced them to call off rescue efforts.
The landslide, triggered by heavy rain, is the latest in a series of deadly accidents in recent years to hit Hpakant, where as much as 90% of the world’s jade is mined.
Mudslides, equipment failures and other fatal accidents are common in Myanmar’s gemstone mines. Located in thick, remote jungles, many of the country’s jade mines are unregulated. People often work in perilous conditions, scrambling up and down the steep hills of rubble and loose shale.
Most scavengers are unregistered migrants from other areas, making it hard to determine exactly how many people are actually missing when accidents happen.
The government has previously vowed to clean up the jade business, but fatal accidents continue to happen.
Jade mining has been in the hands of Myanmar’s military and elites during the final years of junta rule.
Several reports, including a recent one by rights group Global Witness, show the business remains a key driver of conflict between the government and ethnic Kachin rebels. According to the study, the sector has funded both sides in a war that has killed thousands and displaced around 100,000 since 2011.
The 2015 document put the value of jade production in Myanmar at about $31 billion, nearly half of Myanmar’s GDP that year.
Most of the jade extracted in Myanmar is smuggled into China, where the so-called “stone of heaven” is considered a symbol of virtue and power, and it is believed to ward off evil spirits and improve health.