Eight bodies recovered after landslide at defunct Myanmar jade mine

YANGON (REUTERS) - Authorities in northern Myanmar recovered eight bodies on Thursday (July 26) after a landslide that engulfed 27 small-scale miners, an official said, the latest disaster to hit a centre of the Southeast Asian nation's lucrative jade trade.

A search was continuing for others trapped or washed away when muddy earth slid from a cliff on Monday (July 23), but authorities were not expecting to find any of the miners alive, said fire brigade official Aye Thein, who was leading the search in the jade mining region of Hpakant in Kachin state.

Mr Aye Thein said the bodies of eight people had been recovered from water near the site of Monday's landslide, while others would need to be dug out of the rubble with excavators brought to the site on Tuesday (July 24).

The recovered bodies are "badly deformed. They are already rotten," he said. "Others are still buried under the soil."

Hpakant administrator Kyaw Swar Aung said six of the bodies had already been collected by family members.

Officials said the miners had come from nearby villages to pick through tailings for jade at a defunct mine, despite safety warnings.

Deadly landslides are frequent in Hpakant during Myanmar's rainy season from May to October. They frequently bury informal scavengers, or handpickers, who scour large piles of earth for jade.

Another large landslide on July 14 killed at least 15 people and injured 45.

Myanmar's jade industry is notoriously opaque, but advocacy group Global Witness estimated the trade was worth US$31 billion (S$42 billion) in 2014. Experts say most of the stones are smuggled to neighbouring China.