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(5:15 a.m. EST) -- The Panama Canal was closed yesterday for only the third time in its 96-year history, causing delays to ships waiting to transit the 48-mile waterway.
The cause, according to news reports on CNN and the BBC, is heavy flooding in the Chagres River area, which has caused the Gatun and Alajuela lakes, significant parts of the canal's operation, to flood. Floodgates for both have been opened to reduce the water levels. Eastern Panama is on high alert for flooding and some 1,500 people have been evacuated from affected areas, news reports confirm.
The canal closed at midday yesterday, local time. The Panama Canal Authority's (ACP) executive vice president of canal operations, Manuel Benitez, told news agency AFP that the Authority was "taking steps to normalise transit operations in the next few hours."
But early this morning, the webcams for the Miraflores Locks and the Gatun Locks showed the canal to be eerily quiet.
NCL's Norwegian Star is due to transit today, while Princess Cruises' Coral Princess is due tomorrow. Holland America Line's Zuiderdam should be in the Gatun Lake today as a part-transit, while Celebrity Infinity, currently at sea, is scheduled to transit tomorrow.
The canal was last closed in 1989, when the U.S. invaded Panama to topple president Manuel Noriega. Prior to that, the waterway was closed for several months in 1915 and 1916 because of mudslides.
We'll keep you posted with news as the affected lines get back to us with itinerary updates.
--by Sue Bryant, Cruise Critic Contributing Editor