updated 8/6/2008 9:21:55 AM ET 2008-08-06T13:21:55

A suspected cholera outbreak in a remote southern Philippine township has killed 21 people and sickened at least 50 others, the mayor and the Red Cross said Wednesday.

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Most of the victims of the outbreak in several mountainous hamlets near Palimbang town in Sultan Kudarat province were children, Mayor Samrud Mamansual said. The area is about 600 miles (1,000 kilometers) south of Manila.

Mamansual blamed poor water supplies and inadequate sanitation. He said the first deaths were reported Monday in the village of Milbuk among members of the Manobo tribe who get their drinking water from a waterfall.

Mamsansual, speaking by telephone, said the municipal government delivered intravenous drips and medicines to control diarrhea.

Red Cross volunteer Marilou Torres said those who died succumbed to severe dehydration, but laboratory tests were yet to confirm it was cholera. All victims suffered from diarrhea and vomiting, typical symptoms of the disease.

The municipal health officer, who was visiting the affected villages, could not be reached by cellular phone.

The area is so remote that it takes five hours by car to reach Palimbang from General Santos City, the nearest medical center 100 miles (160 kilometers) away, plus another four-hour hike to get to the villages, Torres said.

She said the Red Cross discovered the cases after trying to check a report that seven people had died from hunger in Palimbang.

She said at least 15 people died in Milbuk. Four other nearby villages also were affected.

A similar outbreak in the neighboring village of Ligaw three months ago killed eight people and sickened 60 others.

Cholera outbreaks are not uncommon in the Philippines, especially during the rainy season.

Cholera is a severe gastrointestinal disease often caused by consuming water or food contaminated with fecal matter.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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