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Updated: December 9, 2010 10:13 IST

Flooding closes Panama Canal, forces evacuations

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Kayakers arrive at the Panama Canal in Panama City, on November 21. File photo: AP.
Kayakers arrive at the Panama Canal in Panama City, on November 21. File photo: AP.

Flooding forced the closure of the Panama Canal on Wednesday for the first time in 21 years and heavy rains were being blamed for at least two deaths.

More than a thousand people were also evacuated because of what authorities called historic flooding.

“We’re taking measures to normalize transit operations in the coming hours,” Manuel Benitez, the executive vice-president of canal operations, said on Wednesday afternoon.

The last time the canal closed was on December 20 1989, when U.S. troops invaded the country to topple president Manuel Noriega.

The country’s Civil Protection System declared that eastern Panama was on high alert and issued evacuation orders for about 1,500 people in dozens of flooded neighbourhoods.

Authorities recovered the bodies of two girls who were on a boat that capsized in the town of Chepo in the southeast part of the country.

About five percent of the world’s naval commerce moves through the canal, and the U.S. is its main user.

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