SAN DIEGO (Reuters) - U.S. border agents said on Friday they had found a multimillion dollar drug-smuggling tunnel under the U.S.-Mexico border that is more sophisticated than one discovered less than three weeks ago in the same area.
The tunnel is half a mile long and reaches to about 90 feet deep, contains two entrances on the U.S. side of the border and is outfitted with advanced rail, electrical and ventilation systems, officials with the San Diego Tunnel Task Force said.
On the Mexican side the underground passage, which is tall enough for a grown man to stand in, emerges in the kitchen of a stucco house in Tijuana, where it is capped with a hydraulic steel door, the officials said.
The tunnel walls are fortified with wood and cinderblock supports, and the Tijuana house has a garage large enough to accommodate deliveries by large trucks.
Eight people have been arrested in connection with the discovery and agents seized more than 20 tons of marijuana, said Tim Durst, assistant special agent in charge for Immigration and Customs Enforcement Homeland Security Investigations.
“I think this was the cartel’s favorite tunnel,” Durst said at a press conference to announce the bust. “It took at least one to two million dollars to build this tunnel, but if you think about the returns, it’s worth it.”
The tunnel starts with a single shaft on the Mexican side of the border but branches into a Y-shape with two passages leading to separate warehouses in the Otay Mesa district of San Diego. Another spur leads to an underground storage room where agents say they found 6,000 pounds of marijuana.
The tunnel was discovered on Thursday morning when agents from the Task Force conducting surveillance noticed suspicious activity by a truck arriving at one of the Otay Mesa warehouses, authorities said.
When U.S. Border Patrol agents stopped the truck at a traffic checkpoint, they discovered more than 27,000 pounds of marijuana inside, officials said.
The tunnel was found about 650 feet south of another sophisticated drug tunnel which was discovered on November 2.
That shaft, which measured 1,800 feet and was also equipped with a rail system, lighting and ventilation, yielded some 30 tons of marijuana, one of the largest such seizures on the border in recent years.
Mexico is in the grip of a raging drug war that has killed more than 30,000 people south of the border since December 2006, when President Felipe Calderon launched a crackdown on powerful drug gangs.
Mexican cartels have bored scores of tunnels under the U.S.-Mexico border in recent years to beat ramped-up security at ports of entry and the rugged spaces in between. Nearly all of them linked cities on either side of Mexico’s border with California and Arizona.
Tijuana is the principal gateway for drugs entering California from Mexico. Last month, authorities there seized more than 100 tonnes of marijuana valued at more than $340 million in Mexico’s biggest pot haul to date.
Several federal and local police agencies are part of a special task force to search for tunnels running under the border in the San Diego area, which has soft, loamy soil that lends itself to tunneling.
Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Peter Bohan