PANAMA CITY — The Panama Canal reopened Thursday after heavy rains forced its first closure in over two decades, officials said.
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 now operating; the suspension was the result of the inclement weather around the canal basin and this part of the country," said canal administrator Alberto Aleman Zubieta.
The Panama Canal Authority on Wednesday 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 Wednesday.
The last time the canal was closed was during the 1989 US invasion of the Central American nation.
Each year, around five percent of all international trade passes through the 80-kilometer (50-mile) man-made artery linking the Atlantic to the Pacific, with around 40 ships passing through the canal each day.
Latin America has been lashed by the heaviest rains in decades, with the yearly monsoon season made worse by the La Nina weather phenomenon.
The Panama Canal was built between 1904 and 1914 by the United States after an initial French attempt failed. It was returned to Panama's control 11 years ago.
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