At least 160 workers at a jade mine in northern Myanmar were killed Thursday in a landslide, the Myanmar Fire Service Department said.
On its Facebook page, the fire service said the miners were collecting the precious stones in Hpakant township in Kachin state when they were smothered by “a wave of mud” following heavy rains.
Officials said rescue personnel worked throughout the day to recover bodies from a lake full of mud as heavy monsoon downpours continued.
Police superintendent Than Win Aung said the heavy rains could cause another mine to collapse on the unstable terrain.
Fatal landslides and other accidents are a common occurrence in the area in recent years. Many of the victims are from impoverished ethnic communities who scour the jade mines searching for any of the precious stones missed by large mining firms.
Myanmar is one of the world’s largest sources of jadeite, a more valuable form of jade. The mining of the translucent, green gem is largely driven by great demand in China.
The government of Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi vowed to reform the industry when she took office four years ago, but activists contend little has changed.
The environmental monitor group Global Witness says the mines are cloaked in secrecy and that funds from the mining operations are used to fuel armed conflict between government troops and Kachin rebels fighting for greater autonomy for the area.
The Myanmar government said the sale of jade in 2016-17 generated $750 million, but Global Witness says sales of the gem are worth billions of dollars annually.