Two girls died and at least 30 other people were sickened by an unidentified chemical in two communities outside the northern Colombian city of San Jacinto del Cauca, health officials said.

The first girl was dead when she arrived at the city's hospital on Tuesday, while the second girl died a day later at the medical facility, municipal health secretary Catherine Atencio Avila told Efe by telephone.

The large number of patients with similar symptoms overwhelmed the hospital in San Jacinto del Cauca, which is in Bolivar province, the health official said.

Several patients were transported to hospitals in Cartagena, the capital of Bolivar, which is 10 hours away by road.

Other patients were taken to Monteria, the capital of neighboring Cordoba province, Atencio said.

"We have 20 patients, who are in stable condition, at our hospital," the health official said, adding that all the patients were suffering from poisoning.

"But we have not determined the cause," Atencio said.

The mass poisoning occurred in the villages of Tenche and Las Brisas, located 15-30 minutes by road from downtown San Jacinto del Cauca.

Rice plantations in the area are routinely fumigated with pesticides, but officials have not determined whether the spraying is responsible for the mass poisoning.

Nothing indicates that the pesticides are responsible for the health emergency, San Jacinto del Cauca Mayor Yimmi Requena told Efe by telephone.

People should not talk about "a massive health problem until the doctors weigh in on the matter," the mayor said. EFE