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

domingo 9 de agosto de 2015 18:23 GYT

SANTIAGO Aug 9 (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 left without electricity, the emergency service Onemi said on Sunday.

Three people died as a result of the storms in the city of Tocopilla in the Antofagasta region, while another three were killed in accidents along the coast, local media reported.

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

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

Companies operating other mines could not immediately be reached for comment.

Meanwhile, Chile's central coast faced some of its heaviest sea swell in 40 years, with waves up to 10 metres (33 feet) high. TV pictures showed serious damage to the seafront along tourist resort Vina del Mar, with cars and fishing boats smashed.

The heavy rains extended into neighboring Argentina, complicating voting in presidential primaries there. (Reporting by Rosalba O'Brien; Editing by Eric Walsh)