By Maria Ramirez
PUERTO ORDAZ, Venezuela (Reuters) - Rising rivers have flooded homes in southern Venezuela, affecting more than 15,000 people and forcing some 500 to leave their homes, according to civil protection officials.
The Orinoco and Caroni have risen in recent days following a period of intense rains, leaving many homes waist-deep in water.
"It's the first time in 37 years that the water has reached the door (of the house)," said Edilia Torres, 64, a homemaker, who lives along the Caroni river in Guayana City, home to the country's state-run mining industries in Bolivar state.
The floods also have affected residents of the sparsely populated states of Amazonas and Delta Amacuro.
Shelters have been set up for those affected by the rising waters, which local authorities say are boosting the incidence of respiratory illnesses, skin rashes and malaria.
Venezuela is struggling under an unraveling socialist economy in which basic staple foods, as well as medicine and hospital supplies, are increasingly scarce.
(Writing by Brian Ellsworth; Editing by James Dalgleish)