Photos reveal inside look at East Austin tunnel home

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by NOELLE NEWTON / KVUE News

kvue.com

Posted on May 18, 2010 at 5:34 PM

Updated Sunday, Oct 20 at 11:53 PM

The City of Austin Tuesday released photos of the web of tunnels a man dug underneath his East Austin home.

Under the yellow home are three stories of tunnels. For at least two years, neighbors suspected owner Jose Del Rio was up to something strange, but had no idea just how busy he'd been.

"He must have dug day and night, day and night,” said Zeldta Landon.

Landon's grandmother lives next door to the property. She showed KVUE where the ground has begun to cave in along the fence line. You can even see down into Del Rio's underground bunker. She says Del Rio was often seen carrying out loads of dirt.

On Tuesday, the city released pictures from below taken by code compliance officers. Del Rio apparently used ladders to travel from level to level.

According to a search warrant executed on May 8th, officers found 19 guns down there, ammunition, batteries and chemicals.

"Primarily some compressed gas tanks, acetylene and oxygen, which are primarily used for welding,” said Melissa Martinez, code compliance department.

KVUE shared the photos with Landon's family.

"It's scary to know that he had all that down there. What if something had exploded,” Landon said.

Melissa Martinez with the city code compliance department says the priority is safely removing those chemicals.

The city is working with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. Once the property is safe, officers will be able to determine just how many code violations Del Rio has and if the house will remain standing.

"I can tell you that our consulting engineering group has given a recommendation on the extent of the excavation and they believe that filling the hole is a viable option,” Martinez said.

We should know the final decision on the property in two weeks.

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