SANTA ANA (CBSLA.com/AP) — Authorities launched a frantic manhunt Saturday after three inmates charged with violent crimes, including torture and murder, escaped an Orange County jail.

The inmates were last seen at 5 a.m. Friday at the Orange County Central Men’s Jail in Santa Ana, about 40 miles southeast of Los Angeles. They could have escaped anytime between then and late Friday night, Lt. Jeff Hallock, a spokesman with the Orange County Sheriff’s Department, said Saturday.

Hallock said  said it’s the first escape from the facility in at least the past 20 years and could be the first-ever breakout from the jail.

The three men cut through half-inch steel bars, cut their way through a plumbing tunnel and then rappelled down five stories possibly using homemade rope possibly made from clothes or towels.

Authorities also believe a disturbance at the jail by a group of other inmates might have been timed on purpose to distract the guards.

The inmates include 20-year-old Jonathan Tieu, who had been held on a $1 million bond since October 2013 on charges of murder, attempted murder and shooting at an inhabited dwelling. His case is believed to be gang-related.

Hossein Nayeri, 37, had been held without bond since September 2014 on charges of kidnapping, torture, aggravated mayhem and burglary. Nayeri and three other men are accused of kidnapping a California marijuana dispensary owner in 2012. They drove the dispensary owner to a desert spot where they believed he had hidden money and then cut off his penis, authorities said.

After the crime, Nayeri fled the U.S. to his native Iran, where he remained for several months. He was arrested in Prague in November 2014 while changing flights from Iran to Spain to visit family.

The third escaped inmate, 43-year-old Bac Duong, was being held without bond since last month on charges of attempted murder, assault with a deadly weapon, shooting at an inhabited dwelling, being an ex-felon in possession of a firearm and other charges.

Hallock said the sheriff’s department is doing everything it can to find the men.

“Obviously the safety of the community is No. 1,” Hallock said at a news conference. “We’re exhausting all investigative resources and measures to bring these three inmates back into custody.”

OC Sheriff Sandra Hutchens released a statement on Saturday. It read in part, “Last night, three inmates escaped from Men’s Central Jail in Santa Ana. We are utilizing every resource available to ensure these inmates are brought back into custody as quickly as possible. As Sheriff, my utmost concern and primary responsibility is the safety of each Orange County resident. I take this situation very seriously and the men and woman of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department will not rest until all three men are captured.”

She asked the public to remain vigilant and if you see one of these men, “call 911. Anyone with information as to the whereabouts of these inmates, please call our hotline at (714) 628-7085.”

KCAL9’s Michele Gile reported that when the men escaped they were wearing standard-issue orange jumpsuits.

A source told her that a bloodhound followed the inmates’ scent to the street but then lost the scent suggesting a car was waiting for them.

She reported that investigators are looking at footage from several cameras both inside and outside the jail.

A $20,000 reward for information leading to the escapees’ recapture was announced Saturday evening.

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