Hurricane Otto Delays Vessels at Panama's Ports
On Wednesday, Panamanian authorities issued a red alert warning to shipping about the approach of Hurricane Otto, and harbor movements were temporarily suspended. Agents GAC reported that selected terminals, including Cristobal and Manzanillo International, had also suspended operations due to the coming storm.
Panama Canal transits continued unaffected, GAC said, although delays and interruptions were reported at the anchorages at each side.
GAC reported flooding, landslides, falling trees, high winds and heavy rainfall as the storm approached. As a precautionary measure, the firm evacuated nonessential personnel from its offices in Cristobal.
At the Gatun Lake dam, the Panama Canal Authority (ACP) opened all 14 spillway gates to prevent flooding, sending a whitewater cascade roaring down the Chagres River.
Just months ago, the ACP had been forced to issue a draft restriction for vessel transits due to the low level of Gatun Lake, which forms part of the canal route. A persistent drought, thought to be caused by strong El Nino conditions, had depleted the resevoir.
Hurricane Otto made landfall later in the season than any Atlantic basin hurricane on record. It was also the first in recorded history to make landfall in Costa Rica and the strongest hurricane this late in the season in 80 years.
Otto passed roughly parallel to the Nicaragua-Costa Rican border and moved out over the Pacific Ocean late Friday. Four died in its wake in Panama and nine in Costa Rica. The Panamanian government has mobilized relief teams and aircraft to assist in the humanitarian response.
In Nicaragua, there were no immediate reports of deaths. In the port of Bluefields, north of where the storm landed, there was very limited damage.
"It was a relief for us," said William Salmeron, a 39-year-old businessman in the city. "I wasn't scared, just the normal fear you need to have with hurricanes."
The sun shone in Bluefields on Friday, and people went shopping in the market. Down by the shore, others took their boats out of storage and down to the water.