At least 15 people have been killed and dozens injured in a landslide at an old jade mine in northern Myanmar, state media reported on Sunday, as rains complicate the search for more victims.
The accident is the latest to strike the multi-billion dollar industry centred in Kachin state, the source of most of the world’s jade.
The poorly regulated and murky business is fuelled by demand across the border in China where the near-translucent green gem is prized.
But the vast mines and deposits attract impoverished workers who are offered little in the way of protection as they risk life and limb to dig out profits from the soil.
Those who died were “searching for jade” at a defunct mine on Saturday in Hpakant township when they were hit by a landslide, the Ministry of Information said on its official website.
Fourteen bodies were recovered and a 15th person died in hospital, it said. More than 45 people were being treated for injuries.
Long Long, a 30-year-old resident of Hpakant, said the landslide happened in a sub-township called Lone Khin.
“The rescue process found the dead bodies yesterday but this morning there is heavy rain here,” she said.
A security guard in the area who saw the landslide said there were probably more victims unaccounted for but monsoon rains made the search difficult on Sunday.
The ministry said a rescue team of village authorities, firefighters and local NGOs had helped respond to the accident.
A number of deadly landslides have struck the area around Hpakant in recent years, with one major incident in November 2015 leaving more than 100 dead.
In May 17 people were killed in a mining compound in Hpakant township after a wall of rock collapsed when miners attempted to dig for jade under it.
The NGO Global Witness said the industry was worth some $31 billion in 2014 alone, with much of the funds not reaching state coffers.
Kachin is a resource-rich part of the country that has long played host to conflict between ethnic insurgents fighting for more autonomy and the Myanmar army.
More than 100,000 people have been displaced due to fighting between the Kachin Independence Army and the military after a ceasefire broke down in 2011.
Thousands have fled their homes since the start of the year in response to a new bout of clashes.
Civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi has said ending Myanmar’s conflicts in its borderlands is a priority, but her administration had yet to make significant progress.