Why the Construction of the Panama Canal Was So Difficult—and Deadly


In a quest to fulfill a centuries-old dream to connect the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, the builders of the Panama Canal quickly learned that the construction of a waterway across a narrow ribbon of land looked easier on a map than in reality. The Panamanian isthmus proved to be one of the most difficult—and deadly—spots in the world in which to construct a channel. The builders of the passage attempted to re-engineer the natural landscape, but nature didn’t give up without a fight.

Construction crews literally had to move mountains in a snake-infested jungle with an average temperature of 80 degrees and 105 inches of rainfall a year. In the wet season, torrential downpours transformed the flood-prone Chagres River into raging rapids and soaked workers. “Sometimes you didn’t see sun for about two straight weeks,” recalled laborer Rufus Forde. “In the morning you had to put your clothes on damp. There was no sun to dry them.”


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