SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The landslide that washed over the terraced steps of a mining pit nearly a mile deep left only the tip of one giant electric-powered shovel poking out of the dirt. The rubble buried three of them, along with 14 enormous haul trucks.
Even more of Kennecott Utah Copper’s equipment lay buried under uneven piles of rubble as high as 300 feet at the bottom of the pit west of Salt Lake City.
It will take months for the major U.S. copper mine to recover from the devastating landslide, even though it had been anticipated by the company. It ran farther out than expected, burying equipment that had been staged there for a dig-out.
Yet company officials tried to sound optimistic Thursday as they opened Bingham Canyon mine to view for the first time since the April 10 slide. “There’s no doubt in my mind that there’s a future in mining here,” Kennecott Utah Copper chief Kelly Sanders said. “We’ll meet this challenge.”
Sanders said the company might be able to resume limited ore digging within days, but a full recovery could take a year. Kennecott, which will work from a stockpile, will run out of copper in months and has cut its production goal for 2013 by half. The company has asked 2,100 workers to take vacation or unpaid leave, but few are doing so yet.
Sanders spoke to reporters on the rim of the breathtaking pit, now barren of activity. It spans nearly three miles wide, ringed by snow-capped mountains.
Company officials say 165 million tons of waste rock and dirt slid down a wall of the pit. They have said they expected it for months and kept workers away that very day.
The slide progressed in three pulses over three hours down multiple paths instead of falling all at once, nearly filling the bottom of the pit, said Matt Lengerich, the mine’s general manager. They were so powerful that earthquake monitors operated by the University of Utah registered the commotion at up to a magnitude of 2.4.
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