Mandalay, Myanmar – Aye Mon, 30, is left alone with a of them–an–old daughter after the death of her husband and younger brother in the worst landslide at the Myanmar jade mine, which killed more than 170 people on Thursday.
In the hope of finding gems that could transform his future, his brother, Shwe Moe Tun, 22, had traveled more than 600 km (370 miles) from his village of Monywa to the region of Hpakant in the state from Kachin in northern Myanmar, home to a billion-dollar jade secret industry.
“My husband had worked in the jade mining industry for over 10 years. But it was the first time for my brother. It was his second day at the mine, “Aye Mon told Al Jazeera.
At least 40 jade gatherers killed in the Wai Khar mine disaster were buried on Saturday, the country’s fire departments announced on their Facebook page, while 77 others were buried in a mass grave on Friday.
Many others have been cremated according to Buddhist traditions.
Rescue operations were still underway for the fourth day on Sunday while the bodies of the victims were still recovered at the accident site.
Soe Min, Aye Mon’s husband, 31, and his brother were among hundreds of jade pickers at the mine when the disaster struck as heavy rains filled the mine with water, creating a lake.
A mine wall crashed into the lake, the huge wave of mud causing a deadly landslide.
“My husband and brother were both buried yesterday [Saturday]. I have nothing to depend on in my life. I only have my two-year-old daughter left, “said Aye Mon.
In search of jadeite, a stone exported across the border to China, migrants from all over Myanmar travel hundreds of kilometers to Hpakant, hoping to find the pieces of jade neglected.
The Wai Khar mine has officially closed due to the danger of landslides, Hpakant MP Khin Aung Myint told Al Jazeera.
But unauthorized jade pickers, who would have to pay part of their income to rebel groups operating in the region, are still flocking to the mine.
The jade industry is largely controlled by companies linked to the powerful Burmese army and trade is worth billions of dollars a year.
Rights group Global Witness says trade funds are fueling the armed conflict between government troops and ethnic Kachin rebels who are fighting for autonomy in the region.
He also said the landslide was “an overwhelming condemnation of the government’s failure to curb reckless and irresponsible mining practices”.
“No words to describe his death”
Win Kyaw, 44, worked as an unauthorized jade gatherer for 20 years and managed to find parts that were worth only $ 10 to $ 15. He said his 20-year-old son Kyaw Myat Moe, who was killed in the landslide, managed to find two large pieces but they were taken from them.
“My son received two large stones last year but a group of Burmese army soldiers removed them. If we find a big stone, they always come and ask for it, ”Win Kyaw told Al Jazeera.
On the day of the accident, Win Kyaw had asked his son to go to work without him because he had other business to manage.
After hearing the news of the landslide, Win Kyaw rushed to the scene to find that his son’s body was covered in mud.
“It is a huge loss for the family because we only had one son,” he told Al Jazeera. “I have no words to describe his death. I feel lost. It’s like our legs are broken. ”
The distraught father said that his nephew helped him make a wooden coffin for his son. “We buried him yesterday [Saturday], ” he said.
Despite the risks, thousands of workers, including Win Kyaw, are still ready to return to the mines in search of precious stones in desperation, hoping to make them wealthy.
Officials say it makes it more difficult to prevent disasters like the one that occurred on Thursday.
“I will continue to work here. It is the place of my son’s death. I will not come back until I get rich, ”said Win Kyaw.