Jade mine
© Agence France-Presse/Getty Images
This photo taken on Oct. 4, 2015, shows construction vehicles being used by workers at a jade mine in Myanmar's Kachin State.
At least 90 people have been killed in a huge landslide while searching for precious jade in a remote mining area of northern Myanmar, officials say.

"We found 79 dead bodies on November 21 (and) 11 today so the total so far is 90," said Nilar Myint, an official from the local administrative authorities in Hpakant, northern Kachin state.

Nilar Myint added that the rescue operation was ongoing.

The Global New Light of Myanmar earlier reported that at least 30 dead bodies were retrieved from the landslide site, quoting local officials and media reports.

Rescuers battled to dig through the mountains of loose rubble at the site on Sunday, with fears that the toll could rise further.

It is the latest deadly accident to affect Myanmar's secretive multi-billion-dollar jade industry in war-torn Kachin.

Those killed were thought to have been scavenging through a mountain of waste rubble dumped by mechanical diggers used by the mining firms in the area to extract Myanmar's most valuable precious stone.

Landslides are a common hazard in the area as people living off the industry's waste, driven by the hope that they might find a chunk of jade worth thousands of dollars, pick their way across perilous mounds under cover of darkness.

Scores have been killed this year alone as local people say the mining firms, many of which are linked to the country's junta-era military elite, have scaled up their operations in Kachin.

Myanmar is the source of virtually all of the world's finest jadeite, an almost translucent green stone that is prized above almost all other materials in neighbouring China.

In an October report, advocacy group Global Witness estimated that the value of jade produced in 2014 alone was $31 billion, the equivalent of nearly half the country's GDP.

But that figure is around 10 times the official $3.4 billion sales of the precious stone last year, in an industry that has long been shrouded in secrecy with much of the best jade thought to be smuggled directly to China.

Local people in Hpakant complain of a litany of abuses associated with the mining industry, including the frequency of accidents and land confiscations.

The area has been turned into a moonscape of environmental destruction as huge diggers gouge the earth looking for jade.

Itinerant miners are drawn from all parts of Myanmar by the promise of riches and become easy prey for drug addiction in Hpakant, where heroin and methamphetamine are cheaply available on the streets.