More than 160 people have been killed in a mudslide at a jade mine in northern Myanmar, authorities said.
In what is feared to be one of the worst such accidents in Myanmar, a large pile of mine waste - known as tailing - collapsed into a lake during a rainstorm, triggering a wave of mud and water that buried a large number of workers.
By late evening on Thursday, rescue workers had recovered 162 bodies, the fire service department said, but the search was ongoing.
Local media outlet 7Day News Journal reported that over 200 people were unaccounted for at the time of the collapse.
Tar Lin Maung, a local official with the information ministry, told Reuters “other bodies are in the mud. The numbers are going to rise.”
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 and was about to take a picture when people began shouting “run, run!”.
“Within a minute, all the people at the bottom (of the hill) just disappeared,” he told Reuters. “I feel empty in my heart. I still have goose bumps … There were people stuck in the mud shouting for help but no one could help them.”
The current search and rescue operation has been suspended due to heavy rainfall.
The mine is located in Hpakant in Kachin state, approximately 600 miles north of Myanmar’s largest city, Yangon. Hpakant is the site of the world’s most lucrative jade mining operation.
Accidents in the jade mining industry are not uncommon, due to poor regulation of the industry.
This is the second occasion in the past five years in which over 100 people have died in a jade mining accident in Kachin state. In 2015, 114 died under similar circumstances after a mound of tailing collapsed on miners, many of whom were sleeping in their tents.
The victims of these accidents tend to be freelance miners, who settle around the base of the vast mounds of earth drawn up during the mining process. They then scavenge for loose bits of jade to sell. However, during the rainy season, the mounds become highly unstable and susceptible to collapse.
In 2016-17, official sales of jade reached £606 million, according to government figures released under the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative. However, estimates suggest that the true figure is actually much higher. China is the primary export market for jade.