(Reuters) - Texas officials investigating a potential child abuse case said on Saturday 183 girls and women had been removed from a ranch that is home to a breakaway Mormon sect linked to jailed polygamist leader Warren Jeffs.
Texas Child Protective Services spokeswoman Marleigh Meisner said the 183 consisted of 137 girls and 46 women, but she could not discuss why they were taken from the ranch or whether they had left voluntarily.
Only 18 members of the group had been placed in the legal custody of the state agency, she said in a telephone interview.
Buses and vans were seen on Friday driving some of the women and children from the ranch, located near the small western Texas town of Eldorado, and more were taken out overnight, Meisner said.
Local news reports said temporary shelters had been set up in churches and government buildings to house them.
Texas authorities descended on the ranch this week in response to allegations a 50-year-old man there had married and fathered a child with an underage girl.
The ranch is a compound for the renegade Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, a polygamist group led by Jeffs until last year.
In November, Jeffs was sentenced in a Utah court to 10 years to life in prison as an accomplice to rape for forcing a 14-year-old girl to marry her 19-year-old first cousin.
He is in jail in Arizona awaiting trial on similar charges for arranged marriages there.
Meisner could not say what would happen next to the women and children taken from the ranch. She described the situation as "changing hour by hour."
She said ranch residents were cooperating with authorities.
The mainstream Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as the Mormon faith is officially known, renounced polygamy more than a century ago and tries to distance itself from breakaway factions that still practice it.