HPAKANT, Myanmar, Nov. 22 (UPI) -- A 200-foot high hill of waste collapsed near a jade mine at the town of Hpakant in Myanmar's Kachin state, causing a landslide that killed at least 90 people Sunday.
Many of the deceased were scavengers living on or near the mining companies' waste dumps where they search for jade remnants to sell. The collapse occurred at about 3 a.m. and many were trapped underneath the waste while sleeping in tents.
A large rescue operation is underway including the Myanmar Red Cross, the army, police and community groups, but bad weather has slowed efforts.
Kachin is known for producing some of the best jade worldwide. The jade industry is about 48 percent of Myanmar's gross domestic product -- a $32 billion industry.
The mining industry in Myanmar is often criticized for poor on-site health and safety measures, frequent land confiscations and environmental destruction.
Global Witness, an environmental advocacy group, published a report in October that said the majority of jade wealth is being funneled to the country's elite: former military leaders and drug lords.
"Untrammeled jade exploitation has turned Hpakant into a moonscape, with mining bringing down 'jade mountains,' leaving behind water-filled craters and causing widespread flooding and pollution," the report said.
Myanmar held elections in early November where Nobel Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party was confirmed as the people's choice to lead the country into a democratic era after nearly 50 years of military rule.