SEOUL, Oct. 4 (UPI) -- A cholera epidemic is growing in North Korea after "catastrophic" floods swept though the country's northeast.
But Kim Jong Un has yet to visit the devastated region where volunteers have reportedly died while working on recovery projects.
Cholera, a contagious and often fatal bacterial disease of the small intestine, has been spreading because of contaminated drinking water, Radio Free Asia reported on Tuesday.
A source in North Korea's Yanggang Province told RFA the consumption of contaminated water is also leading to widespread cases of acute diarrhea caused by the E. coli bacteria.
Cities affected include the Hyemyong district of Hyesan, Musan and the region of Onsong. Both volunteer workers and local residents have been affected, according to the report.
The source said it is likely the "already substandard water and sanitation system" was hard hit, and residents have been unable to distinguish between drinking and sewage water since the disaster.
The source also said the elderly and children "are dying" and that diseases were "floating, like a shadow of death."
North Korea has reported the floods are the worst since World War II and that hundreds of thousands of people have been forced out of their homes.
But the North Korean leader has yet to pay a visit to the disaster zone, South Korean news service News 1 reported on Tuesday.
Massive flooding took place from Aug. 29-Sept.2, but since then North Korea has instead conducted its fifth nuclear test on Sept. 9 and has publicized Kim's visits with ballistic missile scientists, military units and others working on Pyongyang's weapons programs.
Defector Ahn Chan-il, the director of the World North Korea Research Center in the South, said Kim is avoiding the region partly because the locals already hold negative views of him.
Kim's personal safety may also be at risk, were he to visit a region near the China border, Ahn said.
Safety precautions are not being taken during recovery work, adding to the toll the flood has taken on human lives.
South Korean news service Daily NK reported seven members of a "shock brigade" were killed while repairing a site.