Source: Insurance Council.
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Heavy rains are disrupting Queensland's coal industry, but the impact on supply is expected to be less severe than in 2011.
Emergency officials said the floods were severe, although not as widespread as the monsoon-like rains that saturated Queensland and NSW two years ago. Thousands of people were being evacuated in the two eastern states and four people were reported killed.
Between 200 and 400 millimeters of rain fell over Queensland state's Bowen Basin, home to giant open pit mines owned by BHP Billiton, Mitsubishi, Anglo American, Peabody Energy and others.
"Central Queensland has experienced significant rainfall over the past few days and production at some of our operations has been impacted by flooding and temporary road and transportation access issues," an Anglo American statement said.
"Weather conditions in Queensland are now improving, which is allowing us to resume work in some areas, however, we continue to monitor the situation to ensure the safety of our employees," it said.
BHP said it was still assessing the impact to its operations across the Bowen Basin.
"All sites are operating and we are working to return to normal operations," it said.
A tropical low moving south along Queensland's coast was causing the flooding. At this stage, there was little likelihood the system would strengthen, according to the Australian Bureau of Meteorology.
Australia is the world's largest metallurgical coal exporter, accounting for roughly two-thirds of global trade. It also supplies thermal coals used in power generation.
Spot coking coal prices today were pegged at over $US167 per tonne, above the most recent quarterly settlement of $US160.
Yancoal shuts mines
Chinese majority-owned Yancoal has closed two of its Queensland coal mines after heavy rainfall in the wake of ex-cyclone Oswald.
At the Middlemount open cut mine, jointly owned with Peabody Energy, a levee bank has been breached and water has flowed into the pit.
Yancoal told the ASX this morning production was likely to be impacted for at least three weeks. Yancoal's Yarrabee mine was closed on the weekend but normal operations are expected to resume this week.
Yancoal shares were down 0.5 cents at 92.5 cents in early trade today.
At the same time, insurers are bracing for rising losses with floodwaters threatening Brisbane, after torrential rain so far left a trail of destruction down the Queensland coast. Insurance major Suncorp this morning said it had so far received around 4500 claims from storms and flooding across Queensland and NSW.
Insurance claims from the latest floods have already topped $43 million, as river levels continue to rise in in many parts.
Anglo-American advised it had shuttered some mines and Aurizon formerly QR National, said parts of its Central Queensland Coal Network were also closed.
A spokeswoman for Anglo's metallurgical coal division said Central Queensland had experienced ''significant rainfall over the past few days and production at some of our operations has been impacted by flooding and temporary road and transportation access issues''. But improving weather conditions had allowed Anglo to resume work in some areas.
Major Bowen Basin producers BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto gave no updates yesterday, saying any impact on production would be reported on in quarterly updates.
''We are obviously monitoring the weather impacts vigilantly and ensuring the safety of our people as a first priority,'' a BHP spokesman said. Xstrata told Bloomberg its Queensland Coal operations were not materially affected.
Freight operator Aurizon said after some impacts in northern Queensland late last week, the Newlands and Goonyella systems were now operating as normal while further south the Blackwater and Moura systems remained closed as damage was assessed.
Aurizon's bulk freight operations along the Queensland coast and coal operations on the West Moreton corridor were also affected by the closure of Queensland Rail corridors. Aurizon was working with customers "to minimise the impacts of heavy rain which has now moved south,'' a spokeswoman said.
On Saturday Port of Gladstone and Hay Point, the world's biggest export harbor for metallurgical coal, suspended ship loading due to the weather. Gladstone's suspension was lifted on Sunday morning.
Analysts expect any supply disruptions could help put a floor under coal prices, which soared in the wake of Queensland's 2011 floods. Hard coking coal peaked above $US330 a tonne that year but halved through 2012 according to IHS McCloskey's Bruce Jacques, who said there had been a small recovery in the last month before the storms..
The spot price was approaching $US170 ($A163) a tonne, he said, and it was likely the rains would ''edge that up a bit further''.
The storms in come as coal supplies from the Cerrejon mine in Colombia are threatened by strike action, and NSW's coal industry faces rail stoppages.
The storm system is tracking south to New South Wales. Newcastle Port told Bloomberg five coal ships and one other vessel had to move their anchorages further out to sea as a precaution, but the port was operating normally.
Four BHP Mitsubishi Alliance mines in the Fitzroy River basin in Central Queensland were last week allowed to carry out controlled releases of water in a pilot program announced by the state government last November.
Queensland Greens member and environmental medicine specialist Andrew Jeremijenko said on Monday the practice would only make the central Queensland floods crisis worse.
''Not only will they contribute to flooding but it will affect water supply that may have already been compromised by the floods,'' Dr Jeremijenko said.
Queensland Environment Minister Andrew Powell said the releases were a continuation of similar practices under previous governments.