The end of the tunnel where authorities say Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman escaped government custody in a second brazen jailbreak is barely large enough to a fit a grown man — 20 inches wide, a rectangular hole in the dirt floor of a half-finished concrete building about a mile from the Altiplano prison complex in the State of Mexico.
On Sunday, the hole was surrounded by small mounds of fresh dirt and discarded plastic pails. A clothesline hung over the opening, where a couple of red laundry pins were still attached.
(All photos by Brett Gundlock/VICE News)
Other than that, there was nothing extraordinary about the cinder-block building where authorities said the infamous drug lord made the second escape from a maximum-security facility in Mexico since 2001, when he managed to leave the Puente Grande prison in Jalisco after eight years in custody.
This time, it took the Sinaloa cartel capo a little over 16 months — since his February 2014 arrest in Mazatlan, Sinloa — to escape again.
A view of the property from the Altiplano maximum-security prison in the State of Mexico.
Authorities on Sunday said that Guzman escaped Altiplano through a hole dug in a shower stall. From there, another digging led him 30 feet down to what was described as practically a custom-built escape tunnel measuring a mile long.
The tunnel had ventilation, a lighting system, and a railing for a motorbike, according to Mexico's national security commissioner Monte Alejandro Rubido. Its height was just one inch over Guzman's known height of 5 feet 5 inches.
Officials at the scene said the tunnel ended at a structure in the municipality of Almoyola de Juarez, State of Mexico — four walls, a roof, and no other building or residence in any direction for at least a half a mile.
"It is totally abandoned," Mexican attorney general Arely Gomez Gonzalez told reporters at the scene.
Federal agents guard the property where Chapo escaped.
Its owner was still unknown, and it did not appear inhabited or show any significant signs of recent activity. Tarps and netting hung over a section of the structure that wasn't covered.
Outside the Altiplano prison, which was once considered one of the most secure in the country, caravans of federal judicial agents, federal police, and Mexican army troops gathered while helicopters circled overhead.
Road checkpoints were set, although witnesses said authorities were searching vehicles less intensely since the night before, when "Chapo" began his prison break at just before 9pm on Saturday.
The entrance gate to Altiplano.
At the prison gates, several dozen families with loved ones serving time inside were lingering, waiting for scheduled visiting appointments that were not being honored. People there told VICE News the prison was on lockdown and that they were not being allowed to speak to family members inside.
"Prisoners here receive extremely harsh treatment and many were scared to even say what was going on inside," said Ericka Martinez, who said she was there to visit her husband. "We never heard any rumor that there was going to be a prison break."
According to her, Guzman enjoyed certain privileges behind the Altiplano's walls.
"We could only visit our family members inside in a hall with others, but he was always allowed to meet his family in private," Martinez said.
Relatives of prisoners inside were not allowed to visit or communicate with their loved ones.
Many of those waiting in front of the gate said they were scared their family members inside might face reprisals for the Sinaloa cartel leader's prison break.
"We're scared that they will accuse them of being accomplices to the escape, that they may transfer them to another prison without telling us," said one woman from Veracruz who wanted to remain anonymous out of fear for reprisals.
"Our people have nothing to do with that gentleman," she added, referring to Guzman. "But they punish them for anything. We fear for their safety."
Daniel Hernandez contributed to this report.
All photos by Brett Gundlock. Follow him on Twitter: @BrettGundlock