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In pictures: Huge drug smuggling tunnel discovered between US and Mexico

The 600-yard tunnel 30ft underground was equipped with lighting, ventilation and rails for carts.

Image: Alex Cossio/AP

THIS WEEK, ANTI-drugs officers discovered a 600-yard tunnel used to shuttle drugs across the US-Mexico border.

The fully-finished secret passage was equipped with a hydraulic lift, electric rail carts and a wooden staircase.

Its discovery resulted in seizures of 32 tonnes of marijuana, one of the largest pot busts in U.S. history. The tunnel between warehouses in San Diego and Tijuana was equipped with lighting and ventilation. Wooden planks lined the floor about 40 feet underground.

“This is an incredibly efficient tunnel designed to move a lot of narcotics,” said Derek Benner, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s special agent in charge of investigations in San Diego said Wednesday.

Authorities recovered nearly 17 tonnes of marijuana at the warehouse in San Diego’s Otay Mesa area, nearly 12 tonnes inside a truck in Los Angeles and about 4 tons in Mexico. Six people were charged in federal court in Southern California with conspiracy to distribute marijuana.

It takes roughly six months to a year to build a tunnel, authorities say. Workers use shovels and pickaxes to slowly dig through the soil, sleeping in the warehouse until the job is done. Sometimes they use pneumatic tools.

Many tunnels are clustered around San Diego, California’s Imperial Valley and Nogales, Arizona. California is popular because its clay-like soil is easy to dig. In Nogales, smugglers tap into vast underground drainage canals.

Slideshow: Inside the tunnel

In pictures: Huge drug smuggling tunnel discovered between US and Mexico
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  • Huge drug tunnel discovered

    Inside the tunnel (AP Photo/Alex Cossio)
  • Huge drug tunnel discovered

    Inside the tunnel, equipped with lighting and ventilation (AP Photo/Alex Cossio)
  • Huge drug tunnel discovered

    A Mexican army soldier stands next to an elevator shaft that lowers into the tunnel at the Tijuana end (AP Photo/Alex Cossio)
  • Huge drug tunnel discovered

    This image shows the entrance to the cross-border tunnel in San Diego (AP Photo/San Diego Tunnel Task Force)
  • Huge drug tunnel discovered

    Inside the tunnel (AP Photo/Alex Cossio)

San Diego’s Otay Mesa area has the added draw that there are plenty of nondescript warehouses on both sides of the border to conceal trucks getting loaded with drugs. Its streets hum with semitrailers by day and fall silent on nights and weekends.

The tunnel passage was about four feet wide and four feet high. It featured a wooden staircase at the US entrance, located inside a large, white building with a long line of trucking docks.

The Mexican entry point was on the same block as a federal police office and featured a hydraulic lift at the tunnel entrance that dropped about 30 feet. Neither the US nor the Mexican warehouse had exterior signs.

The Mexican warehouse sits next to a runway at Tijuana’s main airport. Its carpeted floors were found littered with garbage and dirty linen. The kitchen was stocked with tortillas and oranges.

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Associated Press

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