Mexico mounted an all-out manhunt Sunday for its most powerful drug lord, Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, who authorities said escaped from a maximum security prison through a 1.5-kilometer (1 mile) tunnel from a small opening in the shower area of his cell.
The elaborate underground escape route, allegedly built without the detection of authorities, allowed Guzman to do what Mexican officials promised would never happen after his re-capture last year — slip out of one of the country's most secure penitentiaries for the second time.
"This represents without a doubt an affront to the Mexican state," President Enrique Pena Nieto said while on a previously scheduled trip to France. "But I also have confidence in the institutions of the Mexican state ... that they have the strength and determination to recapture this criminal."
Guzman's escape is a major embarrassment to the Pena Nieto administration, which had received plaudits for its aggressive approach to top drug lords. Since the government took office in late 2012, Mexican authorities have nabbed or killed six of them, including Guzman.
If he is not caught immediately, Guzman lord will likely be back in full command and control of the Sinaloa Cartel in 48 hours, said Michael S. Vigil, a retired U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration chief of international operations.
"We may never find him again," Vigil said. "All the accolades that Mexico has received in their counterdrug efforts will be erased by this one event."
Thirty employees from various part of the Altiplano prison, 55 miles (90 kilometers) west of Mexico City, have been taken in for questioning, the federal Attorney General's Office said.
When the escape was discovered late Saturday, a widespread manhunt began immediately for Guzman, whose cartel is believed to control most of the major crossing points for drugs at the U.S. border with Mexico.
Guzman's Sinaloa Cartel empire stretches throughout North America and reaches as far as Europe and Australia. The cartel has been heavily involved in the bloody drug war that has torn through parts of Mexico for a decade, taking an estimated 100,000 lives or more.
Guatemala's Interior Ministry said a special task force of police and soldiers were watching its border with southern Mexico for any sign of the fugitive drug lord.
To the north, U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch issued a statement offering "any assistance that may help support his swift recapture."
Associated Press journalists near the Altiplano prison saw roads being heavily patrolled by federal police, with numerous checkpoints and a Black Hawk helicopter flying overhead. Flights were suspended at Toluca's international airport near the penitentiary in the State of Mexico, and civil aviation hangars were being searched.
Guzman, who is 58 according to Interpol, was last seen about 9 p.m. Saturday in the shower area of his cell, according to a statement from the National Security Commission. After a time, he was lost by the prison's security camera surveillance network. Upon checking his cell, authorities found it empty and a 20-by-20-inch (50-by-50 centimeter) hole near the shower.
Guzman climbed down a hole 10 meters (30 feet) deep that connected with a tunnel about 1.7 meters (5 feet-6 inches) high that was fully ventilated and had lighting, said National Security Commissioner Monte Alejandro Rubido said.