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Mexico: 11 missing in landslide

A hillside collapses on homes in a rural community in the southern state of Oaxaca, but authorities said there were no confirmed deaths and only 11 missing.
Image: Residents of Macuilxochitl Tlacolula de Matamoros observe the flooded riverr
This raging river on Tuesday had cut off the bridge to the town of Santa Maria Tlahuitoltepec in Oaxaca, Mexico. Dozens of rescue vehicles were stuck at the crossing.Max Nunez / EPA
/ Source: staff and news service reports

A hillside collapsed early Tuesday on homes in a rural community in the southern state of Oaxaca, but authorities said there were no confirmed deaths and only 11 missing — backing off earlier estimates of possibly hundreds buried or dead.

Interior Minister Francisco Blake and Oaxaca Gov. Ulises Ruiz said three adults and eight children were missing. The officials spoke to Mexico's Televisa television network, The Associated Press reported.

The first soldiers from a relief convoy reached the remote hillside town of Santa Maria Tlahuitoltepec, and their reports indicate far fewer casualties than initially feared.

Shortly after the early-morning slide, officials said hundreds were feared dead or missing. Later, they said the slide killed at least four people but officials then backed off that figure.

Most of the relief convoy, as well as dozens of vehicles and digging equipment, were slow to reach the town in Oaxaca state due to a road cut off by a raging river. Helicopters were grounded by the bad weather as well.

The first soldiers who arrived "found serious damage but possibly not of the magnitude initially estimated," Mexican President Felipe Calderon said.

"We are very saddened by this tragedy, very sad but very determined to do everything in God's power to save the victims who are alive in this landslide and to help the people of Santa Maria," Calderon told reporters.

Donato Vargas, an official in Santa Maria de Tlahuitoltepec reached by a satellite telephone, said earlier as many as 300 homes were believed to buried, and residents who made it out early in the morning said they had no success digging out their neighbors.

"We have been using a backhoe but there is a lot of mud. We can't even see the homes, we can't hear shouts, we can't hear anything," he said.

Ruiz said the major landslide followed days of rain in the Sierra de Juarez region.

The town saw a small landslide on Sept. 13 that damaged several homes.

The town is about four hours' drive from the capital of Oaxaca, a city famous for its colonial buildings and nearby archeological sites.

Heavy rains have fallen on Central America and parts of Mexico for days as two storm systems moved across the western Caribbean.

Parts of Mexico are enduring their worst rainy season on record, which has triggered heavy flooding and forced thousands of people from their homes in vulnerable parts.