As storms batter Chile's coast, some copper mines suspend work

Reuters News
Posted: Aug 09, 2015 6:35 PM

By Rosalba O'Brien

SANTIAGO (Reuters) - Heavy rain and winds hit the southern cone of South America over the weekend, battering the Chilean coastline and leading to the precautionary suspension of work at some mines in the top copper exporter.

Over 1,000 people from Antofagasta in the far north to Los Rios in the south of Chile were affected, with some being housed in shelters after being evacuated or losing their homes to floods, and over 120,000 were left without electricity, the emergency service Onemi said on Sunday.

Mud landslides wiped out roads in and around the city of Tocopilla in the Antofagasta region, leading to three deaths, while another three were killed in accidents along the coast, local media reported.

Over 15 millimeters (0.6 inch) of rain had fallen in six hours in normally bone-dry Antofagasta, the interior ministry said.

After months of drought, the rains that began early last week in central Chile and have since spread north have brought some relief to farmers and ski resort owners, but spelled more potential bad news for Chile's key copper mining industry, mostly based in the north of the country and already hit by floods once this year.

State-owned Codelco, the world's top copper exporter, said it had suspended operations at Chuquicamata, its second largest mine, from around 2 p.m. local time (1700 GMT) on Sunday as a safety measure. Chuquicamata produced around 340,000 tonnes last year out of Chile's total 5.7 million.

Codelco said it had also temporarily stopped operations at its Radomiro Tomic mine during the morning but had resumed work. An ongoing strike has already halted work at its Salvador mine and led to a partial suspension at Ministro Hales.

The company did not report problems at El Teniente, its biggest mine.

London-listed Chilean miner Antofagasta said all its mines were operating normally. Companies running other mines could not immediately be reached for comment.

Meanwhile, Chile's central coast faced some of its heaviest sea swell in over three decades, with waves up to 10 metres (33 feet) high. The seafront along tourist resort Vina del Mar was seriously damaged, with cars and fishing boats smashed.

The heavy rains extended into neighboring Argentina, complicating voting in presidential primaries there.

The meterological office forecast dry weather in northern Chile for Monday, although more rain is expected for the central part of the country.

(Reporting by Rosalba O'Brien; Editing by Eric Walsh)