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By Kevin Pamba

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (January 4, 1999 - The National)---Torrential rain in the Star Mountains of Western Province over the weekend has caused a major landslide that cut-off the access road to the giant Ok Tedi Mining Ltd.'s Mt. Fubilan mine site, forcing the company to considerably scale down its operations.

The company said, in a statement yesterday, that the land slip in the early hours of Saturday that cut off a section of the mine access road will adversely affect its operations for the next "three to four days."

The National understands that the length of the road affected measures between 150 to 160 meters (about 500 feet) and is near the company's Yuk Creek water supply.

Though the company could only say that a section of the water pipeline to the mill was moved about ten meters (33 feet) from is original place by the landslide, it is understood the copper slurry pipeline -- which also runs along the road down to Kiunga -- has also been affected.

The company is yet to establish if there is any damage to the affected segment of the copper concentrate resulting in spillages.

The company's statement said "that the problem is big and they don't know how long it will be before they can re-open the mine access road."

OTML superintendent of media and public relations, Florian Dati, told The National from Tabubil yesterday afternoon that the loss due the landslide would be "substantial," but said it was too early to estimate.

Mr. Dati said since Saturday morning workmen have been working to build a temporary access road.

He said heavy rain was continuing and it would take about three to four days to remedy the situation.

The statement said though the water supply from Yuk Creek is affected the company has an alternate water supply for the mill.

On Saturday morning, night shift workers from the mine and mill were transported to Tabubil township by helicopter and the day crew members were asked by the management to remain until an alternate access route is opened.

Mr. Dati said shift mine and mill workers have been "stood down" until further notice from the management.

"A limited mining operation with two shovels and nine trucks recommenced work yesterday. The mill is currently closed," the statement read.

"The company is advising the local landowner villages and its workforce of the problem," the statement read.

"The employees working at the mine and mill have been advised that their supervisors will contact them regarding work arrangements for the next few days," the statement read.

Landowner villages along the mine access road cut of from using the road into Tabubil town include Finalbin on the mine side of the Ok Tedi River and Bultem on the Tabubil side, which are situated few kilometers from the Yuk Creek water supply area where the landslide took place.

Also affected are other remote hamlets in the rugged rainforest mountainous interior that track down the slopes to the roadside to get to Tabubil.

The Ok Tedi or Star Mountain region is one of the world's highest rainfall recording areas.

This time of the year is the region's rainy season. Since OTML started operating in 1984, landslides caused by heavy rain have been a common obstacle to its operations.

Because of the heavy rainfall, the Ok Tedi area has unstable land features.

For additional reports from The National, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/The National (Papua New Guinea).

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