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A Palestinian man tries to clean his house after a cesspool embankment collapsed in the village of Umm Naser, in the northern Gaza Strip, Tuesday, March 27, 2007. ((Khalil Hamra/Associated Press))

Five people died Tuesday when an earth embankment around a cesspool collapsed in the northern Gaza Strip, sending a flash flood of sewage into the village.

The victims included two women in their 70s, two toddlers and a teenage girl, said the Palestinian Health Ministry.

At least 25 people were injured when the flood of waste spilled into the village of Umm Naser, 25 homes were destroyed and dozens more houses damaged, said officials.

A local official blamed shoddy infrastructure for the disaster as angry residents mobbed government officials and reporters at the scene. One minister's bodyguards had to fire shots in the air to disperse the angry crowd.

Rescuers, along with members of the militant group Hamas, rushedto the scene to search for people buried by the sewage.

The governor of north Gaza, Ismail Abu Shammala, blamed Israel, saying the problems started when Gaza was under Israeli control 20 years ago, said Reuters.

The Israeli army offered humanitarian assistance to help clean up the spill, but there was no word on whether the offer had been accepted.

Ziad Abu Farya, head of the village council, described the scene as "our tsunami."

UN warning

A 2004 UN report warned that the sewage facility was at maximum capacity and flooding was inevitable unless a new waste treatment plant was constructed. It said the effluent lake was a breeding ground for mosquitoes and waterborne diseases, posing a serious health hazard.

The treatment facility served two heavily populated areas, Beit Lahiya and Jabalya.

A spokesperson for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said funding has been secured to build a new waste treatment plant, but Israeli-Palestinian violence has delayed construction.

The community is about 270 metres from the Israeli border and the site of Palestinian rocket attacks, and Israeli artillery fire and aircraft attacks.

The Palestinian Authority has also faced a severe cash crunch since Hamas formed the government last year. A number of Western nations and Israel cut humanitarian aid to the government until Hamas renounced violence and recognized Israel.

With files from the Associated Press