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Mexican community hit by landslide is home to 'never conquered' group

  • Santa Maria Tlahuitoltepec is in northeast Oaxaca state
  • The majority of inhabitants are indigenous people
  • It is a Mixe Indian region
  • The people there live in very marginalized conditions

(CNN) -- Located in the mountainous northeast region of the Mexican state of Oaxaca, Santa Maria Tlahuitoltepec is home to 9,000 mostly indigenous people who live in very marginalized conditions.

The region was the focus of worldwide attention Tuesday after reports of a massive pre-dawn landslide, with an equally massive number of casualties. But Oaxaca Gov. Ulises Ruiz told CNN Tuesday night that -- despite those reports hours earlier of as many as 300 homes buried and as many as 1,000 people trapped in the landslide -- there were no confirmed fatalities.

"Fortunately, what we know about this disaster has changed radically," Ruiz said, after rescuers were able to reach the site.

Identified as a Mixe Indian region, the town where 11 people remained missing after the landslide is divided into 36 communities in the mountains of Oaxaca, in southern Mexico.

The Mixe are known as the "never conquered," because the area's terrain kept the Spanish from conquering the group. They are considered of tough character and have a strong musical tradition.

In Tlahuitoltepec, which means "cold place," there are more music schools than elementary schools and many children learn how to play an instrument before they read and write. Many well-known musicians come from this corner of the country.

The Mixe call themselves "Ayuuk," which roughly translates into "people of the flowery language." According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the Mixe consider themselves a unique people, characterized by their customs and for whom their language is the symbol of their identity.

They live in an area with high levels of poverty, where many residents don't know how to read or write or only have an elementary school education. Nearly 34 percent of the population above 15 years old is illiterate, and more than 46 percent have not completed their basic studies.

The majority of the population works in agriculture and earns up to about 3,600 pesos (U.S. $288) a month .

Tlahuitoltepec is one of 240 towns historically inhabited by Mixe Indians and is 295 kilometers (about 185 miles) northeast of the Oaxacan capital of Oaxaca City.

The majority of houses in the area have dirt floors and are made of adobe, with only a few made of brick and concrete slabs and blocks.

Six out of 10 families live in overcrowded conditions, and 40 percent of the houses don't have a refrigerator.

Access to this region by land is now even more complicated than usual, as the rains caused the collapse of a bridge and various landslides have blocked the highway.