By Brecken Branstrator
A landslide at a jade mine in Myanmar last Thursday killed more than 170 people and injured more than 50. (Image courtesy Myanmar Fire Services Department Facebook page)
Yangon, Myanmar—More than 170 people died and many others were trapped after heavy rains caused a landslide at a jade mine in Kachin State in northern Myanmar Thursday morning.

According to a post on Facebook from the Myanmar Fire Services Department, as of Sunday 174 bodies had been recovered and another 54 people found injured as rescue operations continued through the weekend.

The fire service said the jade miners were “smothered by a wave of mud” after a pile of mining waste collapsed amid heavy rains, burying the miners.

According to the BBC, local police said a warning had been issued on Wednesday not to work in the area due to weather dangers.

Heavy rains also made rescue efforts difficult, and photos accompanying the fire service’s post on Facebook show emergency workers trudging through large amounts of mud as they and others carry bodies up unstable slopes.

The incident, which occurred in the jade-rich Hpakant area, is the latest in a series of deadly accidents at jade mines in Myanmar over the past few years.  

Last year, more than 50 workers were buried in a mudslide at a jade mine in Hpakant after a lake collapsed. In 2015, a nearly-200-foot tall pile of earth and mine waste also in Hpakant collapsed and buried the huts where workers slept, killing more than 100 people.

As was the case with this most recent landslide, these incidents often involve miners known locally as “yemase,” who search for overlooked jade pieces in larger mining companies’ tailings.

Despite safety issues throughout the years, Myanmar still produces 90 percent of the global jade supply.

According to data from the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, jade sales in the country were worth about $750 million in 2016-17.

Global Witness puts Myanmar’s jade trade in the billions, though a 2017 Gems & Gemology article from Russell Shor noted many analysts believe this estimate to be “excessive.”

The rights group called Thursday’s incident a “preventable tragedy” that should serve as a wake-up call for Myanmar’s government and its failure to bring “desperately needed reforms” to its mining sector.

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