(Updates death toll, adds detail)
Yangon, Myanmar, Jul 2 (efe-epa).- At least 162 people were killed Thursday during an accident at the world’s largest jade mine in northern Myanmar after a mudslide buried a group of informal miners, official sources said.
The incident occurred when miners were collecting jade from the excavated slopes in a mine in Hpakant, a remote town in Kachin state, the Myanmar Fire Services Department said on its Facebook page.
According to the Department, the accident took place at around 8 am in five abandoned sites, where informal miners generally work in highly precarious conditions.
District administrator Shwe Thein told Efe that rescue operations had ended for the day and would restart again on Friday morning in the hopes of finding significant numbers of people who are presumed buried under the massive mound of dirt.
Throughout the day under relentless rain, the fire department services, with the help of other miners, were salvaging bodies buried under the mud.
Phoe Htoo, the head of a group of volunteers working in the area told Efe that there was a large piece of land close to the site of the incident that was expected to collapse “at any moment”, meaning the more people work on the rescue operation, the higher the risk of an additional landslide and even more deaths.
Accidents inside jade mines are a common occurrence in Myanmar.
In April, at least 54 people died in another landslide at a mine in Hpakant, which is located about 800 kilometers (497 miles) north of the capital, Naypyidaw.
The non-profit Global Witness denounced in 2015 the precarious situation in which jade miners work in sites that are often exploited by guerrilla organizations, warlords, drug traffickers and corrupt members of the army, among other groups.
Myanmar is the world’s largest producer of jadeite, a highly prized variety of jade that is extracted mainly in the mountains of Kachin state.
Tens of thousands of Myanmar youth come to Hpakant, the so-called “Land of Jade,” with the hope of escaping poverty and making money through jade mining.
But many of these migrant workers instead become addicted to cheap heroin, methamphetamines and other drugs that are produced on a massive industrial scale in the region.
Rights groups have said that workers are sometimes paid in drugs rather than in money.
Although the Hpakant area is a harsh and poor region, it generates vast amounts of wealth for some, as buried within its soil are significant deposits of the rare mineral jadeite, the world’s highest-quality type of jade. EFE-EPA