By James Regan
SYDNEY, Jan 29 (Reuters) - Heavy tropical rains inundating Australia's eastern coalfields, among the largest in the world, have cut rail haulage lines and shut down mines.
Emergency officials said the floods were severe, although not as widespread as the monsoon-like rains that saturated Queensland and New South Wales states in 2011. 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, 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 on Tuesday were pegged at over $167 per tonne, above the most recent quarterly settlement of $160.
YANCOAL/PEABODY MINE HIT
A levee bank surrounding the Middlemount mine in the Bowen Basin was breached and water flowed into the open cut, according to part owner Yancoal.
Production from the mine is likely to be affected for at least three weeks, although Yancoal could not say for certain.
Peabody and Yancoal Australia are joint owners of the mine.
Separately, production was suspended at Yancoal's Yarrabee mine at the weekend but was expected to resume this week.
Yancoal said it didn't expect the Yarrabee mine's production for the quarter to be affected by the suspension.
Late last week, transport group Aurizon Holdings Ltd was forced to shut parts of its freight rail operations that transport coal to the port of Gladstone, a key export terminal on the eastern seaboard.
Evolution Mining said it shut its Rawdon gold mine as a precaution and would restart later this week, depending on access to diesel fuel and other necessities.
'Processing will be limited to low-grade stockpiles while dewatering of the open pit is progressed,' the company said.
Gold mining was continuing as normal at Evolution's second Cracow mine, located 215 km (135 miles) west of Bundaberg, a sugar-refining centre among the hardest-hit communities.
Cyclones and rain during the 2010-2011 season forced dozens of companies to evacuate flooded coal mines and wiped out a significant amount of production for much of the year.
The immediate impact then was a sharp rise in coal prices.
Australia's cyclonic storm season runs until April 30.
(Editing by Paul Tait) Keywords: AUSTRALIA FLOODS/COAL
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