Eight killed in rains, Panama Canal shut down

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

PANAMA CITY - Days of heavy rain have left at least eight people dead in Panama, while the Panama Canal authority was forced to shut down the short-cut ship passage that connects the Pacific Ocean to the Caribbean and Atlantic oceans.

President Ricardo Martinelli said the deaths were caused by flooding as rivers overflowed their banks leaving many areas under water. Thousands suffered property damage.

Officials said Wednesday that visibility was too limited to manoeuvre ships through the locks of the Panama Canal. It was the first time in 100 years that the passage had been closed.

The rain also caused landslides in roads near the canal and cut off villages from the outside world.

Catastrophic downpours have flooded the entire region between Venezuela and Costa Rica for weeks and months. Colombia has declared a state of emergency after months of heavy rains claimed at least 218 lives.

The heavy rain is blamed on the weather phenomenon La Nina that revisits the region every so often. Cold water from the Pacific Ocean’s depths surges to the surface, causing drought in some areas of the region while dumping excessive rain on others.

The downpours in Colombia could last into the new year, meteorologists said.

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