Big earthquake kills two in Chile, hits copper mines

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SANTIAGO, Nov 15 (Reuters) A powerful earthquake hit mineral-rich northern Chile killing at least two people, injuring more than 100 and halting output at some of the world's largest copper mines.

Two people were confirmed dead and 117 were injured in the magnitude 7.7 quake which raised massive dust clouds in Chile's mountainous north and shook buildings in isolated cities up and down the Pacific coast yesterday.

Dozens of road workers were reported trapped in and around a highway tunnel that collapsed in the hardest-hit area.

''At the Galleguillos tunnel we understand there are some 50 people trapped,'' Navy Captain Ignacio Rojas told local television.

''However, we are receiving information now that there could be more people trapped inside.'' Hundreds of miles away in the Chilean capital Santiago, buildings swayed and unnerved even the earthquake-hardened.

The worst damage occurred in Tocopilla, 120 km north of coastal mining city Antofagasta, where people were caught under rubble from crumbling rooftops and balconies.

Tocopilla's mayor, Luis Moyano, said at least 1,200 houses had been flattened, leaving 4,000 residents homeless.

''Today, the people of Tocopilla are going to have to sleep in the streets,'' he told local radio.

Aid group World Vision International, which sits on a disaster relief committee for the Chilean government, said it had information suggesting the situation in Tocopilla could be far worse than reported so far.

Authorities said an 88-year-old woman was killed when a wall fell on top of her and a 54-year-old woman also died, although the cause of her death was not immediately clear.

CARS CRUSHED Television images showed cars crushed under the concrete awning of a hotel in Antofagasta, where the quake knocked out power and phone services.

''People ran out into the streets because of how prolonged the quake was. There was a lot of alarm but no material or human damage,'' police chief Hernan Tamayo said in Arequipa, a town farther north near the Peruvian border.

President Michelle Bachelet was due to visit the earthquake zone today.

The United States Geological Service, or USGS, said the quake, 60 km deep, was centered 106 km west of the town of Calama and struck at 12:40 p.m. local time (2100 IST).

The quake was initially reported at 7.8 magnitude by the US agency and later verified at 7.7. Just two hours later, a second quake of 5.7 magnitude struck in the same northern region.

The quakes hit an area of many large copper mines. Chile is the world's biggest copper producer, providing more than a third of annual supplies of the red metal.

Copper prices jumped by as much as 6.29 per cent to 3.3040 dollars a pound on the New York Mercantile Exchange's COMEX division as huge copper mines reported they were without power.

Stock in copper companies also rose.

Shares of copper miner Grupo Mexico rose 7.44 percent to 80.85 pesos in Mexico City as US copper futures extended their gains.

BHP Billiton said work was paralyzed after power was cut off at its Escondida, Spence and Cerro Colorado copper mines.

Freeport-McMoRan Copper&Gold said it later resumed operations at its Candelaria mine in Chile, but its El Abra mine was still down without power.

Chilean state copper miner Codelco said it resumed operations at its largest division, Codelco Norte, two hours after the quake left it temporarily without electricity.

Big mines in the south of Peru, also a major global metals producer, said operations were not affected.

REUTERS JT ND0850

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