Friday, December 17, 2010


(Based on article from LA PRENSA newspaper dated Decebmer 10,2010)

Panama Canal Suspends Operations

The transit of ships through the Panama Canal was suspended temporarily yesterday from 12: 00 noon because of the record level registered at Gatun and Alajuela lakes after the continuous rains.

Gatun Lake, whose maximum level is 88.5 feet above sea level reached 88.56 feet, forcing the opening of the gates to release the water. The Alajuela Lake with the maximum level 252.0 feet, with the constant rain reached 257.6 feet above sea level.

The Executive Vice President of Operations of the Panama Canal Authority (ACP) Manuel Benitez said “the measure was adopted because transits through the Canal could have been affected by the current of the Chagres River, which flows into the waterway at Gamboa, in view of the spill at Alajuela.”

After the order of suspending Canal operation, PANAMAX vessels were stranded along the canal until the locks were back in operation. Although the ACP always suspends temporarily operation in some of the locks, be it for some maintenance task or form some incident, yesterday the administration ordered the suspending operation at all the locks.

The last time the canal was paralyzed for more than one day was during December 20, 1989 after the U.S. invasion of Panama.
The alert situation led to a meeting among the top ACP authorities to evaluate the situation and to determine the normalizing of operation during the next few hours

The rains also affected the expansion operations especially in the Atlantic sector where the rains have been more persistent. A source linked to the task of design and construction of the third set of locks stated that suction pumps have been placed to extract the water in areas where there are excavations.

Yesterday, the ACP, coordinating with local authorities, evacuated about 50 residents of the Guayabalito and Santa Rosa communities in the lower part of Madden Dam Lake which feeds Alajuela Lake.

The ACP warned that the communities near the Chagres River, as well as Nuevo VigĂ­a Salamanca, and Boqueron- on the upper part of the dam should be placed on state of alert pending instructions from the authorities.

The ACP said that the preventive spill of water through the Gatun Spillway also affected automobile traffic through the bridge connecting the towns of the South Coast of Colon. It asked residents of the towns in that sector to avoid travel due to the limited use of the bridge.

As part of the actions coordinated with other authorities. A system was devised to move the people in case of an emergency.

Summary by Juliette Passer, Esq.

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