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The building of the Panama CanalApril 25, 2000Web posted at: 11:02 p.m. EST (0302 GMT)LESSON PLAN RELATED SITES
by Christy Oglesby(yellowcomic.comfyi) --A Spanish explorer thought about it. Some Frenchmen tried it. But in the end, it was an international workforce of 75,000 men and women who would link two oceans.The 50-mile feat, known as the Panama Canal, cuts a swath through Central America and links the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.INTERACTIVEPanama: the canal and the countryNow there is a plan underway to make the canal deeper and wider to accommodate larger vessels. That billion-dollar renovation should be complete by 2005.Without the waterway, ships would spend days sailing around the continent of South America to reach either ocean.Vaco Nunez de Balboa, the Spanish explorer who discovered the Pacific Ocean in 1513, first thought of such a waterway then. In the late 1800, Frenchmen tried to build a canal and failed because they attempted to dig it out at sea level. There is an 85-foot difference between the levels of the ocean and the highest part of the land.In 1904, Americans began the 10-year, $300 million construction that brought to reality a vision of raising and lowering ships in a series of closed off beds of water called locks. There are three locks spanning the canal. A ship enters a lock, metal gates close behind it, and water funnels in or out to change the water level to that of the body of water the ship will enter. Each lock fills with as much as 52 million gallons of water within 10 minutes to raise or lower a ship."To look at the canal is really quite a marvelous feat," said Professor Robert Pastor of Emory University. "The idea of lifting ships up through these enormous locks like they were little boats in a bathtub and lowering them down is really quite marvelous."A marine traffic controller monitors the ships and the tugboats that help them navigate the canal. The waterway has seen an increase in traffic with as many as 12,500 ships passing through each year. It takes about 24 hours for a ship to make the journey when it does not have a reservation. And the toll for passage can cost as much $10,000.
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