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More than 100 miners die 'smothered in mud' in Myanmar landslide

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By Euronews  with AFP
Myanmar Fire Services Department rescuers attempting to locate survivors after a landslide at a jade mine on July 2, 2020.
Myanmar Fire Services Department rescuers attempting to locate survivors after a landslide at a jade mine on July 2, 2020.   -   Copyright  AFP PHOTO / MYANMAR FIRE SERVICES DEPARTMENT

At least 100 people have died following a landslide in a jade mine in Myanmar on Thursday.

The incident took place in the northern state of Kachin following heavy rainfalls.

"The jade workers were smothered by a wave of mud," the Myanmar Fire Service Department said on Facebook.

"A total of 113 bodies were recovered," they also said.

ဖားကန့်မြေပြိုကျမူ ထပ်မံရရှိသတင်း ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ (၁၁ ၁၀) အချိန်တွင် သေဆုံးသူ(၃၇)ဦးနှင့် (၁၂ ၀၅)အချိန်တွင်...

Publiée par Myanmar Fire Services Department sur Mercredi 1 juillet 2020

Miners had apparently defied a warning not to work the treacherous open mines during the rains, local police told AFP.

Rescuers worked all morning to retrieve the bodies from a mud lake, pulling them to the surface and using tires as makeshift rafts.

Police said that at least 20 people were also injured.

They added that search and rescue efforts had been suspended because of more heavy rains.

The workers were scavenging for the gemstones on the sharp mountainous terrain in Hpakant township, where furrows from earlier digs had already loosened the earth.

Photos posted on the fire service Facebook page showed a search and rescue team wading through a valley flooded by the mudslide.

Rescuers carried bodies wrapped in tarpaulins out of the mud lake as a deluge poured down from above.

Unverified footage of the scene showed a torrent of sludge crashing through the terrain as workers scrambled up the sharp escarpments.

Police said the death toll could have been even higher if authorities had not warned people to stay away from the mining pits the day before.

"It could have been hundreds of people dead -- more than this, but the notice might have saved some," superintendent Than Win Aung told AFP.

Frequent landslides near mines

Open jade mines have pockmarked Hpakant's remote terrain and given it the appearance of a vast moonscape.

Landslides in the area are common, especially when rainfall hammers the muddy terrain during Myanmar's notoriously severe monsoon season.

The workers combing through the earth are often from impoverished ethnic communities who are looking for scraps left behind by big firms.

A major collapse in November 2015 left more than 100 dead.

A mudslide buried more than 50 workers last year, when a days-long recovery effort saw police digging through a "mud lake" to retrieve bodies from the sludge.

Myanmar is one of the world's main sources of jadeite and the industry is largely driven by insatiable demand for the green gem from neighbouring China.

The mines are mired in secrecy, though Global Witness claims their operators are linked to former junta figures, the military elite and their cronies.

The watchdog estimated that the industry was worth some $31 billion (€27.5 billion) in 2014, although very little reaches state coffers.

Northern Myanmar's abundant natural resources — including jade, timber, gold and amber — help finance both sides of a decades-long civil war between ethnic Kachin insurgents and the military.

The fight to control the mines and the revenues they bring frequently traps local civilians in the middle.