YANGON (Reuters) - Authorities in Myanmar used excavators on Wednesday to hunt for 27 people buried for two days in a landslide, officials said, the latest disaster to hit a northern centre of the Southeast Asian nation’s lucrative jade trade.
Deadly landslides during Myanmar’s rainy season from May to October frequently bury informal scavengers, or handpickers, who scour large piles of earth for jade, production of which stood at $31 billion (£23.5 billion) in 2014, advocacy group Global Witness says.
Small-scale miners who flouted repeated warnings in their search for jade at a defunct mining site were buried by muddy earth that slid off a cliff on Monday, said Kyaw Swar Aung, the administrator of Hpakant in Kachin state.
“There were 4 inches of rain the night before it happened,” he said, adding that no survivors or bodies had yet been pulled from the rubble. “Warnings had been issued twice not to do mining at that site.”
Six backhoes were brought in on Tuesday to help with the search in the village of Ma Mone, said fire brigade official Aye Thein.
“We could not perform the search when it happened, since we did not have the machinery,” he said.
Those trapped had come from nearby villages to pick through tailings for jade, he said. Experts say most of the stones are smuggled to neighbouring China.
About 100 people are estimated to have died in landslides this year in the Hpakant region, said Dashi La Seng, a lawmaker for the ruling National League for Democracy. A large landslide on July 14 killed at least 15 people and injured 45.
Reporting by Sam Aung Moon; Editing by Simon Lewis and Clarence Fernandez