Death toll from a mud slide at a jade mine in northern Myanmar surged to over 100 on Thursday, authorities said, in one of the worst accidents ever to hit the perilous industry.
“A total of 113 have bodies been found so far,” Myanmar Fire Service said in a Facebook post.
A local police officer said search and rescue efforts had been suspended due to heavy monsoon rains.
Dozens die each year while working in the country’s highly lucrative but poorly regulated jade industry, which uses low-paid migrant workers to scrape out a gem highly coveted in China.
“The jade miners were smothered by a wave of mud,” the statement said. “The search and rescue process is still ongoing.”
The landslide struck early on Thursday close to the Chinese border in Kachin state after a bout of heavy rainfall, the Myanmar Fire Services Department said on Facebook.
The workers were scavenging for the precious gemstones on the sharp mountainous terrain in Hpakant township, where furrows from earlier digs had already loosened the earth.
Photos posted on the Facebook page showed a search and rescue team wading through a valley apparently flooded by the mudslide.
Open jade mines have pockmarked Hpakant’s remote terrain and given it the appearance of a vast moonscape.
Fatal landslides in the area are common, and the victims are often from impoverished ethnic communities that are looking for scraps left behind by big firms.
Watchdog Global Witness estimated that the industry was worth some US$31 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.