UPDATE 1-Heavy rains in northern Chile leave thousands cut off

miércoles 25 de marzo de 2015 16:26 GYT

* State of catastrophe declared as government calls in military

* Top copper miner Codelco suspends operations in region

* More rains expected (Adds details on mining operations, communications, fires in southern Chile)

By Anthony Esposito and Rosalba O'Brien

SANTIAGO, March 25 (Reuters) - Heavy rains in Chile's northern desert regions have caused mudslides and rivers to breach their banks, leaving residents stranded and forcing top copper miner Codelco to suspend mining operations.

The government's ONEMI emergency office reported that nearly 40,000 people were without power and almost 50,000 lacked drinking water in the northern Coquimbo and Atacama regions. The Antofagasta region was also affected.

Television images and photos on Twitter showed muddy rivers rushing through city streets, bridges wiped out, and buildings including a hospital flooded.

Interior minister Rodrigo Penailillo said on Wednesday afternoon that a state of catastrophe had been declared and armed forces had been ordered to co-ordinate support operations and take control of public order in the worst affected area.

The "very intense" rains were expected to continue for around another eight hours yet, he said.   Continuación...