Heavy Chile rains hit some of world's biggest copper mines

By Anthony Esposito SANTIAGO (Reuters) - Heavy rains in central Chile have prompted global miner Anglo American Plc and state-owned producer Codelco to temporarily suspend operations at two major copper mines with combined annual capacity of 880,000 tonnes. Any outages will be keenly watched by copper investors as the market suffers its longest crisis in more than a decade amid concerns about oversupply as demand from top consumer China slows. Natural disasters in Chile, the world's top copper exporter, have crimped output. The torrential downpours during the weekend follow a September 2015 earthquake and March 2015 flooding, which also caused disruption. The heavy rains over the weekend have left one person dead, seven missing and millions without drinking water as landslides wreaked havoc and rivers breached their banks. Anglo American told Reuters on Sunday that it was normalizing mining activities at its flagship Los Bronces copper mine, after previously suspending them for security reasons. It said the plants at Los Bronces were operating normally. Mining activity at Anglo's smaller El Soldado copper mine remained suspended, but its plants were operating normally with stockpiled material, the company added. Neither of the mines suffered any damage to infrastructure and an access road to Los Bronces that had been blocked by debris has been cleared, it said. Meanwhile, world No.1 copper producer Codelco said late on Saturday it had suspended production at its century-old underground El Teniente mine, likely leading to the loss of 5,000 tonnes of copper production. The rains caused landslides, prompted waterways to breach their banks and damaged transportation infrastructure for personnel and minerals at El Teniente. "Work to restore basic services and systems in order to restart production is estimated to take at least three days, equivalent to production of 5,000 tonnes of fine copper," Codelco said. All of Codelco's other operations are operating normally, including its Andina mine, which borders Los Bronces, the company said. Antofagasta Plc's Los Pelambres copper mine, some 240 kilometers northeast of capital Santiago, was operating normally. The majority of Chile's copper mines are in the desert north, which has not been affected by the bad weather. (Reporting by Anthony Esposito; Editing by Louise Heavens, Bill Trott and Alan Crosby)

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