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No confirmed deaths from Mexican landslide, governor says

By the CNN Wire Staff
  • NEW: No deaths confirmed from landslide, governor says
  • The mudslide occurred in a mountainous area where many homes are built on hillsides
  • Residents are indigenous and relatively poor, a report says

For more on this story, go to CNN Mexico

Mexico City, Mexico (CNN) -- As of Tueday night there were no confirmed fatalities and 11 possible missing persons as the result of a landslide in the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca, Gov. Ulises Ruiz told CNN.

The figure was a stark -- and fortunate -- difference from the governor's original estimate of as many as 1,000 people trapped underneath the earth.

The pre-dawn landslide happened in the Santa Maria Tlahuiltotepec municipality.

The small indigenous municipality was thrust into the spotlight Tuesday after news broke of the landslide.

Ruiz said that the first phone calls he received from people near the scene were of 300 homes buried, and he passed that information on to the public.

"Fortunately, what we know about this disaster has changed radically," Ruiz said.

A challenge for rescuers was reaching the site of the large landslide. Smaller landslides blocked the highway leading to Santa Maria Tlahuiltotepec, and a bridge that leads to the area was left inoperable.

By the time that rescuers finally reached the site, they were able to report to the governor by nightfall that mass tragedy was averted.

Video: Hundreds trapped in mudslide
  • Mexico
  • Oaxaca

Concepcion Rueda, a representative of the National Commission for the Development of Indigenous Communities told the state-run Notimex news agency also that there were 11 people missing.

"We hope we will find them alive," Ruiz said.

Some residents were complaining Tuesday morning that help was slow in coming.

"Police and rescue officials still have not arrived at the landslide zone and there are many landslides on the road," the Oaxaca Red Cross reported on its Twitter account Tuesday morning.

The region has been plagued by extremely heavy rainfall over the past two weeks, most recently by the remnants of Tropical Storm Matthew, which were still stalled over the area Tuesday, according to CNN Meteorologist Brandon Miller.

Satellite data indicates that nearly 12 inches (300 mm) of rain has fallen in the area of the landslide in the past three days, Miller said.

Many houses are built on the edge of ridges on the steep terrain in the state, which stands about 2,400 feet above sea level, making it conducive to landslides in severe weather.

More rain is forecast in the region in the next day and a half, Miller said.

The severe weather led civil protection authorities to declare a state of emergency Monday for the Oaxaca state municipalities of Oaxaca de Juarez, San Felipe Tejalapam, San Jacinto Amilpas, San Lorenzo Cacaotepec, San Pablo Etla, Santa Lucia del Camino and Tlalixtac de Cabrera. A municipality in Mexico is a geographic division within a state, similar to a county in the United States.

The Santa Maria Tlahuiltotepec municipality is a remote area with about 8,500 residents, located about 182 miles (295 kilometers) from the state capital, Ciudad de Oaxaca.

Residents in Tlahuiltotepec are indigenous -- nearly 99 percent of them speak an indigenous language and about 66 percent also speak Spanish, according to information provided by a local educational institution, the Bachillerato Integral Comunitario Ayuujk Polivalente.

Statistics provided by the institution show a relatively poor area where 43 percent of homes didn't have electricity 10 years ago and 17 percent had no indoor plumbing.

Nearly 40 percent of the municipality's residents were illiterate and only about 10 percent graduated from high school, the institute said.

The statistics came from the year 2000 and show an increasingly higher quality of life compared with 1990.

"Housing construction has evolved considerably," the institute said in a report. "Walls that used to be built with sticks, mud and adobe have been substituted by concrete, which is a mix of sand, lime and cement."

Likewise, the report said, roofing that used to consists of leaves, limbs, and other vegetation has been replaced with aluminum or even concrete tiles.

Most residents are involved in low-level farming, raising livestock and commerce.

CNN's Mariano Castillo contributed to this report.