Panama Canal reopens after first closure in 20 years

The 17-hour suspension had been ordered after heavy rains swelled nearby lakes flowing into the key transport route that handles five percent of global trade. "The canal is now operating; the suspension was the result of inclement weather around the canal basin," said canal administrator Alberto Aleman Zubieta.

The Panama Canal Authority yesterday said downpours had filled the Gatun and Alhajuela lakes to historic levels, forcing it to suspend traffic for the first time since 1989. Passage through sections of the canal have been temporarily blocked on other occasions as a result of accidents, but not operations along the entire length of the canal, as was the case yesterday.

The last time the canal was closed was during the 1989 US invasion of the Central American nation. Each year, around five per cent of all international trade passes through the 80-kilometer man-made artery linking the Atlantic to the Pacific, with around 40 ships passing through the canal each day.

Recent floods from heavy rains here have collapsed bridges, destroyed homes and caused disruptions to electrical and water supply. At least eight people have died across Panama -- including two girls who drowned in a river -- as a result of the heaviest rains to strafe the country in the 73 years that records have been kept.

Panamanian officials also said that at least 1,500 people have been left homeless by the floods, caused by downpours which have afflicted all of Latin America, after the La Nina weather phenomenon which carried cooler-than-normal water to the region.

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