Under Las Vegas: Tunnels Stretch for Miles

Darker side of 'Sin City': Homeless live in tunnels beneath the strip.

ByABC News
September 23, 2009, 1:59 PM

Sept. 23, 2009— -- Millions of tourists walk up and down the Las Vegas strip every year, looking to have fun and make some money. But beneath the flashing lights, there is a much darker side of Las Vegas.

Underneath Sin City's most famous casinos is a secret world: a labyrinth of tunnels that run for miles under the Las Vegas Valley. Built to protect the desert city from flash floods, the tunnels have become home to hundreds of Las Vegas' homeless.

Nightline visited the underground world beneath the Las Vegas strip, with Matthew O'Brien, author of "Beneath the Neon: Life and Death in the Tunnels of Las Vegas," as our guide.

"Even after exploring these tunnels for seven years, you still have a bit of anxiety when you're walking into the tunnels because you never know what you're going to find," O'Brien said. "You never know what's waiting in the dark."

O'Brien introduced us to Iron, a tunnel regular, who's made a makeshift home in a tunnel with a view of the strip that some hotel guests pay top dollar for.

"That's pretty much it, just a blanket and some pillows right now, because everything I had got washed away," he said as he led us into his tunnel, so low overhead that we had to crouch. "It's kind of dirty, I wasn't expecting company."

When he become homeless seven years ago, Iron said moving into the tunnels took some coaxing.

"It took them months to get me into these tunnels; I used to be scared to death of these tunnels, I wouldn't come in here," Iron said. "Finally I came in, but at the beginning, I wouldn't go no further than this. Now I'll go all the way in."

For Iron and other city homeless, the tunnels provide refuge from the blazing summer heat.

"You're going to get the shade. It's cooler in here," Iron said, "Over the summer, it was 115 degrees, it's 15 degrees cooler in here."