(Reuters) – Myanmar rescuers found two more bodies at a jade mine on Thursday after an official conceded there was little hope of finding survivors among scores of people buried by an avalanche of dirt and rubble while searching for fragments of the gems.
Many were swept into a lake below by the landslide of mining waste, prompting a desperate search by volunteers and workers in hard hats aboard rubber boats.
Two more bodies were found on Thursday morning taking the confirmed death toll at the mine in the Hpakant area to three, Pyae Nyein, captain of Hpakant Township’s fire department, said.
“We are continuing the search. So far no one has survived,” Pyae Nyein told Reuters. Earlier, he said that around 50 people still unaccounted for had likely also died.
Kachin Network Development Foundation, a civil society group involved in the rescue operation, estimated the number missing at around 80, while the Myanmar Now news portal cited sources as saying as many as 100 may be buried under mining waste.
“In incidents like this, bodies usually only turn up four to seven days later,” Myanmar Now cited Min Naing of the Thingaha group, another volunteer body, as saying.
Deadly landslides and other accidents are common in Hpakant, the centre of Myanmar’s secretive jade industry which draws poor workers from across Myanmar in search of gems mostly for export to China.
In a landslide last weekend, media reported at least six people were killed and in July last year more than 170 people died in one of the worst disasters in Hpakant after mining waste also collapsed into a lake.
Economic pressures due to the COVID-19 pandemic have drawn more migrants to the jade mines even as conflict has flared since Myanmar’s military seized power in a coup in February.
The ousted government of Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi had pledged to clean up the industry when it took power in 2016, but activists say little has changed and that the coup has likely made the situation worse.
Myanmar produces 90% of the world’s jade. Most comes from Hpakant, where rights groups say mining firms with links to military elites and ethnic armed groups make billions of dollars a year.
“The military coup has torpedoed hopes for urgently-needed reforms for Myanmar’s jade sector,” Hanna Hindstrom, senior campaigner at advocacy group Global Witness, which has investigated the jade industry, said in a statement.
(Reporting by Reuters Staff; Writing by Ed Davies; Editing by Michael Perry)