Deadly Mon landslide sparks call to ban illegal sand mining
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