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Notorious drug kingpin El Chapo escapes Mexican prison through mile-long tunnel

Drug lord Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán Loera at time of arrest in 2014.
Drug lord Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán Loera at time of arrest in 2014.
RONALDO SCHEMIDT / AFP/Getty Images

Mexico's most notorious drug lord, Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán Loera has escaped from the country's most secure prison. Chapo disappeared on Saturday night while taking a shower in his cell. His method of escape? An elaborately built tunnel that stretched nearly a mile from the prison walls. A massive search is now underway around the prison, which is about 90 minutes from Mexico City.

According to reports, the country's national security commissioner Monte Alejandro Rubido said in a press conference that authorities found the opening near the shower area shortly after he was last seen around 9PM on Saturday. Guards entered the cell only to find that Chapo was nowhere to be found. They did find a hatch with a 20-by-20-inch opening that led to the escape tunnel via a ladder.

Elaborate tunnel equipped with a "motorcycle-on-rails."

This main tunnel appeared to be a major undertaking — it was about 30 feet deep, tall enough to stand in, and 2.5 feet wide. It also had PVC piping for insulation, a lighting system, and what's being described as a "motorcycle-on-rails" that was either used to whisk Chapo away or to facilitate construction. There were also construction materials and canisters of fuel and oxygen left in the tunnel. After running about a mile, it popped up at a construction site in the town of Almoloya de Juárez.

Chapo has a history with elaborate tunnels. His Sinaloa cartel has built tunnels at border towns to smuggle drugs, weapons, and cash into and out of the US. According to The Washington Post, US officials have found hundreds of such tunnels, some of which are similarly equipped to the tunnel that freed Chapo. A complex network of tunnels at one of his Mexican homes have also helped him evade arrest attempts in the past.

Chapo could be responsible for up to 80,000 deaths

The drug lord was arrested just over a year ago in Mexico. It was a stunning arrest for a notorious criminal who seemed to be above the law in Mexico. The arrest was the result of a joint effort between Mexico's paramilitary forces and US intelligence, and was a major political coup for President Enrique Peña Nieto, who has run on a policy of bringing major drug lords to justice. The US informally sought to the have Chapo extradited and held in an American prison after the arrest, but Mexico decided to detain the kingpin on its side of the border as a point of pride.

Chapo is said to be worth as much as a billion dollars and could be responsible for 80,000 deaths over the years. US authorities say his cartel is the largest importer of cocaine and marijuana, and in recent years it's said to be behind over 50 percent of heroin smuggled into the US.

Nevertheless, he evaded capture for years thanks to influence, fear, power, and money. Deep-seated corruption through all levels of the Mexican government has made it possible for notorious criminals like Chapo to avoid prison. The last time Chapo was arrested, back in 2001, he escaped in a laundry cart — though many suspect that bribes and cooperation from prison staff led to the escape. And it appears the escape this weekend was no different.