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3 Aug, 2022 15:36

Mysterious sinkhole prompts investigation

A hole in the ground larger than a tennis court appeared in Chile’s Atacama Desert over the weekend

Chilean authorities have launched a probe over a huge sinkhole that appeared near a copper mine in the country’s Atacama Desert over the weekend.

Experts from the country’s National Geology and Mining Service (Sernageomin) started working on the site in Tierra Amarilla – where some 13,000 people reside – on Tuesday.

The sinkhole has a diameter of some 32 meters, which makes it larger than a tennis court. “There’s considerable distance, approximately 200 meters (656 feet), to the bottom,” Sernageomin director David Montenegro said.

The agency will determine the cause of the collapse and “ensure that all safety measures are taken to safeguard the lives of workers [at the nearby Alcaparrosa mine] and communities close to the site,” he promised.

“We haven’t detected any material down there, but we have seen the presence of a lot of water,” Montenegro said. 

Mayor of Tierra Amarilla Cristian Zuniga described the sinkhole as “unprecedented” and demanded to know “whether the collapse is the product of mining activity or something else.”

Canadian firm Lundin Mining, which operates the local copper mine, said that it suspended development work at the Alcaparrosa site after the appearance of the sinkhole.

The phenomenon had “no impact to personnel, equipment, or infrastructure,” it said, adding that the nearest home was located some 600 meters (0.3 miles) away from it. 

A security perimeter has been erected around the sinkhole, which has remained stable since its discovery, the company added.

Chile is the world’s largest producer of copper and is responsible for a quarter of the global supply of a metal that is widely used in electrical equipment such as wiring and motors.