More than 160,000 people have been displaced over the past several days by the heaviest floods to hit South America in 50 years.

At least 144,000 were evacuated from flooded areas near the Paraguay River in Paraguay, the hardest-hit country. About 20,000 were displaced in Argentina and several thousand in Uruguay and Brazil.

Bolivia has also been battered by severe floods.

The floods, caused by overflowing rivers and torrential rains blamed on the El Nino phenomenon, have been responsible for at least eight deaths: six in Paraguay and two in Uruguay.

The causes of the deaths have ranged from falling trees to electrocution.

Al Jazeera's Teresa Bo, reporting from the Argentine capital of Buenos Aires after visiting the city of Concordia - one of the cities particularly badly hit by the disaster - said that thousands of residents were forced to take refuge in shelters.

"We visited shelters in Concordia that were packed with mostly poor people who had lost everything they owned," she said.

"The government is struggling to provide people with food and other basic needs ... It has set up a commission to deal with the crisis that will last for at least a couple of months."

Authorities are preparing to cope with the possibility of diseases spreading - heightened by the fact that mosquitos and snakes thrive in swamp-like conditions, she added.


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Some houses in Concordia had water nearly up to their roofs and people made their way around town in canoes.

Overflowing sewers have also caused homes there to have dirty running water.

"The water [from sinks] is contaminated and bugs are everywhere," said Josefina Monson, 33, who has been in the shelter with her husband and young daughters since Christmas Eve. "I'm not sure when we'll be able to go home."

Over the weekend, both Argentine President Mauricio Macri and Dilma Rousseff, the Brazilian president, toured affected areas and announced measures to help people recover and rebuild their homes.

"The Latin American governments are investing millions of dollars" to help contain the crisis, Bo said.

Meteorologists attribute the heavy rains to the El Nino weather phenomenon, which happens every few years when the Pacific Ocean warms up around the equator.

Authorities estimated that it could take months for some affected areas to recover from the floods [AP]

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies