PANAMA CITY – At least four people have died, another has gone missing, about 50 dwellings have been destroyed, classes have been suspended and flights at airports have been interrupted due to Tropical Storm Otto, Panamanian authorities said Tuesday.
A boy was killed Tuesday morning as his mother was driving him to school in the Panamanian capital and a huge tree crashed down on their car, the chief of the Volunteer Fire Department in Panama, Jaime Villar, reported. The mother fortunately survived but it took hours to remove the boy’s body from the crushed auto.
Panama Canal administrator Jorge Quijano tweeted Tuesday that the 14 gates of the Gatun locks are being kept open to control the water levels, so as not to affect operations through the canal.
“The last time we opened the 14 lock-gates was Nov. 26, 2012,” Quijano said, and confirmed that transit through the canal is proceeding as usual.
Meanwhile, Education Deputy Minister Carlos Staff announced the suspension of classes throughout the country Tuesday and Wednesday, since rains are forecast to continue for another 24 hours and a yellow alert has been extended for that period.
The Joint Task Force, or FTC, recovered Monday the body of a 14-year-old girl swept away by a river in the interior of the country, while this Tuesday the search for an unidentified Colombian youth, 18, was called off. He had also been caught in the swollen current of a stream.
In addition, the bodies were recovered of a young married couple buried under a mudslide that destroyed their home and caught nine people in all, of whom seven were injured but have been rescued.
The inhabitants of another four threatened houses were evacuated by the FTC.
Tocumen International Airport announced that it is operating but with interruptions due to the gusts of wind in the area, while Albrook International Airport is closed for lack of visibility.
About 50 dwellings have been damaged nationwide by overflowing rivers, mudslides, falling trees or having their roofs blown off.
The director of the Sinaproc emergency management agency, Jose Donderis, urged people “to be very careful” about any earth movements on hillsides where there are houses, and to “evacuate first and then call the FTC.”
Sinaproc also ordered red flags to be raised along the Caribbean coastline, since waves could reach a height of 10 feet (3 meters).
Panamanian authorities also banned sailing “small boats with outboard motors” during the next 48 hours and set up several shelters around the country.
Otto, the 15th tropical storm of the Atlantic hurricane season, formed Monday in the southwestern Caribbean off the coasts of Nicaragua and Costa Rica, and by Wednesday could become a hurricane, the U.S. National Hurricane Center, or NHC, said.
During this year’s Atlantic hurricane season, which began last June 1 and ends Nov. 30, there have been 15 tropical storms, of which six became hurricanes: Alex, Earl, Gaston, Hermine, Matthew and Nicole.