Miners search for jade stones at a mine dump at a Hpakant jade mine in Kachin state, Myanmar November 25, 2015. Photo: Reuters/Soe Zeya Tun

More than 50 people may have been killed in Myanmar when jade miners and machinery were buried under a mound of tailings late on Monday, according to agency reports.

Three bodies had been pulled from the debris, Tin Soe, a lawmaker representing the jade-rich Hpakant area of Kachin state in the north, said on Tuesday according to Reuters.

Deadly landslides and other accidents are common in the poorly regulated mines of Hpakant, the northern state’s main mining area.

Six jade scavengers died in February when a 150-foot cliff wall collapsed at a jade mine in Hpakant. Reports at the times cited a municipal official saying “hundreds” of lives have been lost in mining accidents in recent years.

In Monday’s disaster, a total of 54 workers for two mining companies, along with 40 machines and vehicles including backhoes and trucks, were trapped when the large refuse pile collapsed late at night, Tin Soe said according to the reports.

“They won’t survive. It is not possible because they are buried under mud,” Tin Soe told Reuters by phone. “It is very difficult to retrieve the bodies.”

Hpakant’s fire brigade chief, Aye Thein, said a search was mounted after dawn on Tuesday and rescue efforts were going on.

Myanmar’s Ministry of Information confirmed on Facebook that 54 workers were missing. It identified the companies involved as Shwe Nagar Koe Kaung and Myanmar Thura. Neither company had commented on the collapse at time of publication, according to reports.

Environmental advocacy group Global Witness put the value of jade production in Myanmar at about US$31 billion in 2014. Experts say most of the stones are sold or smuggled to China.

Kachin state’s abundant natural resources, including gold, amber, jade, copper, and rubies, have partly fueled a long-running civil war between the Kachin Independence Army, an ethnic armed organization, and the Myanmar military, which have clashed over the control of mining areas.

— this article draws on agency reports

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