Copper Mines Halted by Heavy Rains in Chile

(Bloomberg) -- Heavy rains and floods that have affected the world’s top copper-producing nation for the past week are forcing companies to halt some operations.

Chilean state-owned copper miner Codelco stopped work at its Chuquicamata and Ministro Hales mines on Thursday night, while Freeport-McMoRan Inc.’s El Abra mine has been halted since Monday, the companies said in emailed statements. The three mines are near the city of Calama in the country’s north.

“This masks a larger problem because the storm has also impacted southern Peru, with an emergency declared in some areas,” Cesar Perez-Novoa, an analyst at BTG Pactual in Santiago, said by phone. “It is still too early to quantify the impact of these stoppages.”

Strong to moderate rains and thunderstorms in northern Chile are expected to continue through Feb. 10, according to Chile’s weather service Meteochile. The storms are expected to move south, affecting the Andean and pre-Andean areas in the regions of Arica y Parinacota, Tarapaca and Antofagasta.

Other mines in the region are running normally, according to company officials. These include Codelco’s Gabriela Mistral and Radomiro Tomic mines; and BHP Group’s Escondida and Spence. Zaldivar, which is co-owned by Antofagasta Plc and Barrick Gold Corp. is also still operating, as is Collahuasi, owned by Anglo American Plc and Glencore Plc.

Copper Mines Halted by Heavy Rains in Chile

Road access to Collahuasi has been partially cut and the company won’t be taking new workers to the site at least until Sunday, according to an emailed statement. While the mine is running normally, the situation is being monitored constantly, Collahuasi said.

The Atacama desert in northern Chile, home to some of the world’s largest copper mines, is the driest place on the globe. Rains occasionally hit the region in January and February, the so-called high plateau winter. But this year’s downpours have been unusually intense, with the deluges sweeping away roads and impacting water supply in Calama, where three people have died, according to Chile’s emergency agency Onemi.

Chuquicamata and Ministro Hales are part of Codelco’s northern division, which also includes Radomiro Tomic. The three mines together produced 848,900 tons of copper last year, making it the company’s top-producing division, according to a monthly report by Chile copper agency Cochilco. Freeport’s El Abra produced 91,000 tons in 2018, according to the same report.

Hail and snow

Peru’s weather agency Senamhi declared special weather alerts in 14 regions along the Andean mountains. Moderate and strong rains, as well as thunderstorms, started to fall on Wednesday and will continue until Saturday, the agency says. Hail and snow can also be expected in some areas. The alerts affect some of Peru’s main mining regions, including Apurimac, Arequipa and Cuzco.

The Cerro Verde mine in southern Peru, the country’s largest copper operation, is operating normally, Freeport said. MMG Ltd. and Southern Copper Corp. didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on the storm’s impact.

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