Copper Mines Evacuated as Deadly Storms Hit Northern Chile

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Torrential rains buffeted northern Chile for the second time this year, causing deadly mudslides and halting work at some of the world’s biggest copper mines including Codelco’s Chuquicamata.

Storms that struck Arica, Parinacota and Los Rios -- in a region famed for being one of the driest places on earth -- left at least three people dead, according to government emergency service Onemi. Hundreds took refuge in shelters, thousands of people lost power and a state of emergency was declared in Tocopilla, where mudslides choked roads.

An El Nino weather pattern is helping end to a seven-year drought across the center of Chile, with warmer waters down the coastal Pacific bringing rains. In March, the worst storms in decades cut roads and flooded towns in the north. For Codelco, the world’s biggest copper-mining company, the weather interruptions are adding to a more than two-week protest by contract workers who have taken over its Salvador operation.

Codelco evacuated workers from Chuquicamata at about 1 p.m. New York time Sunday, while its Rodomiro Tomic operation was suspended temporarily because of poor visibility and dangerous conditions for trucks, the state-owned company said. At Gabriela Mistral, Codelco planned to transport workers to the town of Calama as conditions were forecast to worsen.

Copper Slump

Copper for delivery in three months declined to the lowest level in six years in early Asian trade on Monday as concern that demand in China is faltering outweighed the supply interruptions. The price lost as much as 1.1 percent to $5,118 a metric ton and traded at $5,143.50 at 11:03 a.m. in Singapore. The metal has slumped 18 percent this year.

Other mines in Chile continued operating. Processing plants at Ministro Hales were running, while Hales’ mining work is still being restricted by the contractor protests. Collahuasi in the Andes Mountains was running under normal winter safeguards, a company official said.

BHP Billiton Ltd., the world’s biggest mining company, experienced minimal disruption to operations at its giant Escondida mine, the Melbourne-based producer said.

Operations also continued at Pan Pacific Copper Co.’s Caserones mine, according to a Tokyo-based spokesman for Pan Pacific’s majority owner JX Nippon Mining & Metals Corp., who declined to be identified due to company policy.

Antofagasta Plc’s operations are producing as normal, the company said Monday Australian time in an e-mailed statement. Necessary safety precautions were being taken on the weather conditions, the Santiago-based company said.

Lundin Mining Corp., KGHM Polska Miedz SA and Glencore Plc didn’t immediately respond to phone calls and e-mailed requests for comment on the status of their operations.

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