PORT-AU-PRINCE - A CHOLERA epidemic in northern Haiti has claimed 135 lives and infected 1,500 people over the last few days, Claude Surena, president of the Haitian Medical Association, said on Thursday.

'According to the results of the analysis carried out in the laboratory it is cholera,' Mr Surena told AFP, adding that a government statement on the health crisis was imminent.

The outbreak has so far not hit the capital, Port-au-Prince, ravaged by a 7.0 earthquake in January, which killed more than 250,000 people and left another 1.2 million homeless.

But 'hospitals and medical centres in the regions are overwhelmed and numerous deaths have been registered,' said Gabriel Timothe, director general of the Haitian health ministry.

'There are several hundred people in hospital, and we are evacuating a number of the sick patients to other centres.' Doctors contacted by AFP confirmed there had been deaths along the Artibonite river which crosses the centre and north of the country.

According to local radio, most of the dead have been taken to hospitals in Saint Marc, about 100km north of the capital. In Saint Marc, doctors had earlier told AFP that 26 deaths had been registered and more than 400 people hospitalised. Eighteen people had also died in the town of Verette in the same region, while three had died in central Mirebalais where 100 were being treated in hospital.

Haiti cholera epidemic kills 135