Deadly Mon land­slide sparks call to ban il­le­gal sand min­ing

Mizzima Business Weekly - - CONTENTS - Aye Chan Khaing

Soe Thein Oo had all but lost hope. He pointed at the land­slide where he lost his el­der sis­ter, younger sis­ter, two neph­ews and two nieces. And he knows who is re­spon­si­ble. “We have no au­thor­ity to say. We have to wait and see what those peo­ple who have au­thor­ity are do­ing. If we let them con­tinue do­ing in this way there will be an­other dis­as­ter,” Soe Thein Oo said. He points his fin­ger at ir­re­spon­si­ble sand min­ing and ex­ca­va­tion, com­bined with heavy rain.

The land­slide hap­pened at Thae Phyu Kone vil­lage in Mon State in the early hours of the morn­ing on 9 Au­gust, like an earthquake, bear­ing down on build­ings, ve­hi­cles, peo­ple and an­i­mals.

At about 6 a.m. on Au­gust 9, the bound­ary wall of monastery on Ma Latt hill col­lapsed and then a strong wind was blow­ing there. Then the wa­ter flowed from the hill top and siren-like blow­ing of strong wind was heard and then the land­slide came down, bury­ing all in mud and rub­ble.

Vil­lager Khin Maung was an eye wit­ness. “All had been gone when I looked at there after hear­ing the siren-like blow­ing of a strong wind. And then I woke up my neph­ews and told them to go there to help these peo­ple as I heard they are yelling ‘help’, ‘help’ but it was too late. All of them were buried un­der the land­slide when we reached there.” Days and weeks after the event it is hard to get a full tally of the dead.

On that day, House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives MP Khaing Khaing Lae from Tha­ton con­stituency, Mon State spec­u­lated that about 100 peo­ple might be trapped un­der the mas­sive land and mud after the land­slide buried the en­tire vil­lage and high­way un­der it.

“We did not know the ex­act sit­u­a­tion. The land­slide washed away all peo­ple and ve­hi­cles un­der the hill so that we could not know how many ve­hi­cles were buried and how many peo­ple were buried and feared to be dead. I think about 100 peo­ple are feared to be dead,” MP Khaing Lae Lae who was present at the site of land­slide soon after the dis­as­ter told Mizzima shortly after the dis­as­ter.

A to­tal of 69 peo­ple died in the land­slide and about 29 found alive, plus a cow that sur­vived the del­uge. To­day, it is hard to be­lieve that there were houses and peo­ple liv­ing at this spot in the hills. But the stench of dead bod­ies told a har­row­ing story.

Paung Town­ship Fire­fight­ing De­part­ment chief Tin Thaung Oo said on Au­gust 10, “There are sur­vivors. We are do­ing our search and res­cue work based on the in­for­ma­tion re­ceived from these sur­vivors. We mainly use back­hoe earth mov­ing ma­chines in search and res­cue work. We care­fully did not to touch and da­m­age the bod­ies when we found dead bod­ies. We had to re­trieve these dead bod­ies care­fully. We could find a man alive on the first day of our op­er­a­tion. He is the 28th per­son that we could find on that day. He was stuck and trapped in Toy­ota Probox van. There were three fam­ily mem­bers in this car in­clud­ing this lucky man. We could re­trieve the mother and daugh­ter first and he was res­cued alive at about 3:45 p.m. with great dif­fi­culty as the res­cue work was started at about 8 a.m.”

Soe Thein Oo has many rea­sons to lodge com­plaints against the sand min­ers but sounded re­luc­tant.

“No one will care about a com­plaint lodged by an ob­scure man. No one will pay at­ten­tion to us. They are su­per rich. Our com­plaint let­ter will cer­tainly be re­jected even in the vil­lage-level. It will be a far cry from reach­ing the up­per­most level. So I stay tight lipped as I know my qual­i­fi­ca­tion and level,” he said. Mon State Chief Min­is­ter Dr. Aye Zan said when he vis­ited the land­slide site at Thae Phyu Kone vil­lage on Au­gust 10 in the evening that he would take ac­tion against all il­le­gal sand min­ing and quarry mines else­where in Mon State in ac­cor­dance with the law.

“Our re­gion govern­ment has de­cided not to let such in­ci­dent hap­pen again in fu­ture. We will ban all sand min­ing in the en­tire Mon State with no ex­cep­tion. We shall ab­so­lutely not ac­cept such dig­ging and ex­ca­va­tion. We shall take ac­tion if dig­ging is done. We have al­ready de­cided to take ac­tion against such min­ing in ac­cor­dance with the law,” Mon State govern­ment chief min­is­ter Dr. Aye Zan said.

On Au­gust 11 in the morn­ing, the re­spon­si­ble of­fi­cials from Mon State govern­ment, MPs and assem­bly leg­is­la­tors, of­fi­cials from the mil­i­tary, of­fi­cials from the govern­ment Pub­lic Works De­part­ment, and ex­perts from Yan­gon Fire­fight­ing De­part­ment in­spected and sur­veyed the land­slide site by us­ing a drone.

Ex­perts warned land­slides may hap­pen again. The video footage taken by drone and re­port and rec­om­men­da­tions com­piled by this ex­pert group will re­port­edly be sub­mit­ted to the Union Govern­ment through the State Govern­ment.

Myint Yee who nar­rowly es­caped from land­slide said, “We are wor­ry­ing about more land­slides hap­pen­ing again. So I take my chil­dren to far­away place and left them there.”

Cur­rently Myint Yee and her fam­ily have to live in friend’s house. Laugh­ter and hap­pi­ness have dis­ap­peared from the com­mu­nity.

Peo­ple who lost their fam­ily mem­bers wait as the res­cue crews still work to dig amongst the mud and rub­ble, ready to iden­tify the highly de­com­posed bod­ies. Soe Thein Oo held a stack of pho­tos in his hand.

“I have been com­ing and wait­ing here for three days. I’m still wait­ing un­til my loved ones are found. I must ac­cept my fate if they are not found,” he said. His is a gasp of quiet res­ig­na­tion, know­ing no jus­tice will be done.

Lo­cal of­fi­cials help direct res­cue work at the land­slide site. Photo: Thura for Mizzima

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