Myanmar landslide: One dead and at least 70 missing after landslide at jade mine

FILE - In this March 22, 2015 photo jade pickers scavenge for scrap jade on a hillside in the Hpakant area of Kachin state, northern Myanmar. A landslide at a remote jade mine in northern Myanmar's Kachin state Wednesday, Dec. 22, 2021, left dozens of people missing and a search and rescue operation was underway, rescue officials said. (AP Photo, File)
Jade pickers scavenge for scrap jade on a hillside in the Hpakant area of Kachin state, northern Myanmar. Credit: AP

At least one person has died and dozens of people are missing after a landslide in Myanmar.

There are fears that about 80 people have been swept into a lake by mining waste at a jade mine.

The landslide happened at around 4am Myanmar time on Wednesday in the moutainous and remote area of Hpakant, in Kachin State, northern Myanmar, according to a civil society group and media reports.

Authorities are said to have arrived at the site at around 7am and are searching for people.

“About 150 rescue workers and firefighters are searching for the area and we have found the body of a jade miner so far and keep finding others,” Gayunar Rescue Team official Nyo Chaw said.

More than 70 miners who were digging for jade were swept into a lake after earth and waste from several mines around Lonekhin village slid about 200 feet down a cliff, he added.

At least five young women and three small shops were also buried.

Bodies being recovered after separate landslide in July 2020 in Hpakant, Kachin State, Myanmar. More 100 people were killed. Credit: AP/Zaw Moe Htet

Hpakant is the centre of Myanmar's lucrative jade industry. Myanmar produces 90% of the world's jade and most of the gems are exported to China.

But deadly landslides and other accidents are common in Hpakant, where activists say the mines are poorly regulated by firms making billions of dollars a year.

The region also suffers from sporadic fighting between the Myanmar army and ethnic guerrilla forces.

In July 3 last year, at least 162 people, many of who were migrants, died in after mining waste collapsed into a lake in Hpakant.

In November 2015, 113 were killed after a 200 foot-high mountain of earth and waste discarded by several mines collapsed in the middle of the night on 70 huts where miners were sleeping.

Many miners are freelance scavengers who work and live in abandoned mining pits at the base of the mounds of earth, which become unstable during the rainy season.

Many are also migrants, so it is hard to determine exactly how many people are missing after such accidents.

Aung San Suu Kyi had promised to tackle problems within the jade mining industry, before her government was ousted by the military, but activists say little has changed.

The military has said it shut down jade mining in Hpakant, but dozens of companies are understood to have been operating illegally.

The mines are a main source of revenue for the Kachin ethnic armed group - Kachin Independence Army.