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A Massive Sinkhole Has Emerged Near A Copper Mine In Chile

Nearby residents of the mine fear they might not be so lucky next time.

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Tom Hale

Senior Journalist

clockAug 3 2022, 12:32 UTC
The sinkhole was discovered on the afternoon of Saturday July 30 near the town of Tierra Amarilla in the Atacama region at the site of the Minera Ojos del Salado copper mine.
The sinkhole measures 32 meters (104 feet) in diameter and an estimated 200 meters (656 feet) in depth. Image credit: Sernageomin

A gargantuan sinkhole has just opened up in Chile, measuring some 32 meters (104 feet) in diameter and an estimated 200 meters (656 feet) in depth. That's almost tall enough to hide the entire Trump Tower in Manhattan. 

The sinkhole was discovered on Saturday, July 30 near the town of Tierra Amarilla in the Atacama region at the site of the Minera Ojos del Salado copper mine, according to Chile's National Service of Geology and Mining (Sernageomin). 

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The majority stakeholder of the copper mine is Canadian corporation Lundin Mining while the minority share is held by Japan’s Sumitomo Corporation. Lundin Mining acknowledged the sinkhole on Monday, but had little else to say on the matter other than precautionary measures were being taken and all was under control. 

Fortunately, it looks like no one was injured.

“This event did not affect people, equipment, or facilities both inside and on the surface of the mine. The company suspended the work located in the vertical of the sinkhole, trying, at all times, to protect the people who work in Alcaparrosa. In the same way, Minera Ojos del Salado fenced the perimeter of the sinkhole to protect the community”, David Montenegro, National Director of Sernageomin, said in a statement.

This latest incident managed to avoid any casualties, but nearby residents of the mine fear this might not be the last time a sinkhole opens up – and next time they might not be so lucky

“Today it happened in this space, on an agricultural property, but our greatest fear today is that this could happen in a populated place, on a street, in a school, and protecting the integrity of our inhabitants is our greatest concern at the moment,” mayor of the commune, Cristóbal Zúñiga, told local media Ciudadano ADN.

Sinkholes can arise for a variety of reasons, but they’re generally created by the ceiling of an underground cave system collapsing. Often this can occur naturally by slightly acidic rainwater eroding away material from the soluble rock roof, resulting in the ceiling caving in. 

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On the other hand, some local residents in the Tierra Amarilla commune suspect that the local mining operations may have been a factor in the collapse. This, however, is yet to be proven. 

“The Government, the National Service of Geology and Mining of Chile ( Sernageomin), and this company must be held responsible and it must be investigated quickly, regarding what happened and why…,” said Zúñiga.  

"Sernageomin must get its act together and do a good job to clarify whether this is connected to mining activity or due to nature."


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