Panama Canal - the lakes have flooded

Never before has it happened! The Panama Canal, that lifeline between the Atlantic and the Pacific Ocean for thousands of ships a year as well as the cruising sailor, has had to be closed because of flooding. Ten people have been killed and about 1500 citizens had to be evacuated from their homes in some of the dozens of neighbourhoods that were also flooded. It is the greatest rain since the opening of the canal in 1914 to have hit Panama.

While it is the first time flooding has caused closure, 21 years ago on December 20 1989, U.S. troops invaded the country to topple the then president, Martinelli Noriega, and closed the canal at the same time. Panama President Ricardo Martinelli commented also on the fact that it was the first time the canal was closed because of weather. 'Our meteorologists says it's never rained so much in Panama in the 73 years that we've kept climate records,' Martinelli said. The reason the canal had to be closed was that water overflowed the banks of lakes Gatun and Alajuela, which supply the canal.

Authorities said they have opened the floodgates for both lakes. 'We're taking measures to normalize transit operations in the coming hours,' said Manuel Benitez, the executive vice president of canal operations.

Meteorologists said the heavy rains are part of the La NiƱa weather phenomenon.

Posted: 23 December 2010