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Panama Canal To Restrict Cargos

March 11, 1998

PANAMA CITY, Panama (AP) _ A severe drought blamed on El Nino has prompted authorities to lower the level of the Panama Canal, forcing ships to carry lighter loads.

Beginning Thursday, the U.S. Canal Commission will lower the maximum draft of vessels crossing the canal six inches to 39 feet.

The commission estimates the reduction will affect 17 percent of ships crossing the canal through October _ about 1,500.

The drought has reduced the level of Lake Gatun, which feeds the canal. Rainfall this season was lower than ever in the canal’s 84-year history.

The drought has killed cattle, hurt agriculture and threatened water supplies used to generate electricity.

El Nino, which means ``the child″ in Spanish, is the nickname for a periodic warming of waters in the eastern Pacific that affects weather patterns worldwide.

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