Mines closed as Cyclone Yasi tears into NE Australia

Julian Harris
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CYCLONE Yasi slammed into the north east coast of Australia last night, hitting the city of Cairns at about midnight, causing mass devastation and the closure of coal mines and a huge copper refinery in the area.

Copper prices jumped to a record high of nearly $10,000 (£6,171) a tonne yesterday, fuelled by tight supplies and optimism over growing demand.

Any further disruptions to supply would add pressure to the price, although Harry Colvin of Longview Economics warned against hysteria.

“Australia only accounts for around five per cent of the copper supply,” he said.
“Sentiment is really high at the moment, so price fluctuations are mainly just the ebb and flow caused by demand and risk appetite.”

However, the storm saw BHP Billiton close two of its coalmines in the area with an annual capacity of more than six million tonnes.

Australia has already seen its coal and food industries hammered by severe floods this year, and its sugar crop is likely to be the biggest casualty from the cyclone.

Queensland accounts for almost all raw sugar shipments from Australia, the world’s third-largest exporter.

“Certainly what happens in Australia will affect prices in the global market,” a sugar dealer in Bangkok said. Queensland’s Canegrowers estimated yesterday that industry losses could exceed A$500m (£311.5m), including possible cyclone damage to infrastructure. The category five cyclone, which could be the most powerful tropical storms to hit the coast since records began, has brought 185 mile-per-hour winds and a tidal surge of up to seven metres.