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Landslide at Myanmar mine kills at least 162 people

People gather near the bodies of victims of a landslide in northern Myanmar.
People gather near the bodies of victims of a landslide July 2 in northern Myanmar.
(Associated Press)

At least 162 people were killed Thursday in a landslide at a jade mine in northern Myanmar, the worst in a series of deadly accidents at such sites in recent years that critics blame on the government’s failure to take action against unsafe conditions.

The Myanmar Fire Service Department, which coordinates rescues and other emergency services, announced about 12 hours after the morning disaster that 162 bodies were recovered from the landslide in Hpakant, the center of the world’s biggest and most lucrative jade mining industry.

“The jade miners were smothered by a wave of mud,” a statement from the fire service said.

A crowd gathered in the rain around corpses shrouded in blue-and-red plastic sheets, laid in a row on the ground.

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Emergency workers had to slog through heavy mud to retrieve bodies by wrapping them in the plastic sheets, which served as makeshift body bags that were then hung on crossed wooden poles shouldered by the recovery teams.

Khin Maung Myint, a lawmaker from Hpakant, earlier said that in addition to the dead, another 54 people were injured and sent to hospitals.

Thursday’s death toll surpasses that of a November 2015 accident that left 113 dead and was previously considered the country’s worst. In that case, the victims died when a 200-foot-tall mountain of earth and waste discarded by several mines tumbled in the middle of the night, enveloping more than 70 huts where miners slept.

The area of Thursday’s accident is 600 miles north of Myanmar’s biggest city, Yangon, and is the center of the world’s biggest and most lucrative jade mining industry.

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Accidents at such mining sites causing multiple casualties are not rare.

The victims are normally freelance miners who settle near giant mounds of discarded earth that has been mined in bulk by heavy machinery. The freelance miners who scavenge for bits of jade usually work and live at the base of the mounds of earth, which become particularly unstable during the rainy season.

The London-based environmental watchdog Global Witness said the accident was “a damning indictment of the government’s failure to curb reckless and irresponsible mining practices in Kachin state’s jade mines.”

“The government should immediately suspend large-scale, illegal and dangerous mining in Hpakant and ensure companies that engage in these practices are no longer able to operate,” the organization said in a statement.


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