At least 100 people have been killed after a landslide at a jade mine in Myanmar left workers trapped under a mound of refuse.
The miners were collecting stones in the jade-rich Hpakant area of Kachin state, in the north of the country, when a wave of mud caused by heavy rain buried them early on Thursday morning.
“Other bodies are in the mud. The numbers are going to rise,” a local official told the Reuters news agency.
Accidents – including deadly landslides – are common in the poorly regulated mines of Hpakant.
Maung Khaing, a 38-year-old miner who witnessed the accident, said he spotted a towering pile of waste that looked on the verge of collapse – then heard people shouting ‘run, run!’
He added: “Within a minute, all the people at the bottom (of the hill) just disappeared. I feel empty in my heart. I still have goosebumps… there were people stuck in the mud shouting for help but no one could help them.”
Scores of people have been killed in the area over recent years, many of them freelance “jade pickers” who scour tailings – the residue from mining – for stones that have been missed by larger operators.
Sales of jade in Myanmar were worth £605m in 2016-17, according to official data published by the government as part of an Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative.
But experts say the true value of the sector, which mainly exports to China, is much larger.
Aung San Suu Kyi’s government has pledged to clean up the industry, but activists say little has changed.