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    Wednesday, 27 June 2018

    Heavy rains hamper rescue for children stuck in Thai cave

    Rescuers battled heavy rains Wednesday as they struggled to drain a flooded cave in Thailand where 12 children and their football coach have been trapped for days, as desperate relatives clung to hope the boys will be rescued soon.
    The young football team, aged between 11 an 16, have been stuck in the Tham Luang cave in northern Thailand since Saturday night after monsoon rains blocked the main entrance.
    Hundreds of rescuers worked overnight to install high-pressure water pumps to reduce flooding in the cave, but it was a losing battle as rains continued to pound the area in northern Chiang Rai province near the Laos and Myanmar borders.
    "Rising water levels is major obstacle in the rescue operation, and it rained hard last night," Khanchit Chomphudaeng, the provincial secretary in charge of the rescue operation, told AFP.
    He said 1,000 people had been mobilised for the search, including air and ground teams and divers. The Army also dispatched special operation troops to aid the rescue.
    Thai Navy SEAL said on their Facebook page that water levels rose 15 centimetres (six inches) overnight and that a third chamber of the complex cave network, believed to be several kilometres long, was now flooded.
    Soldiers carried large hoses into the cave Wednesday to continue draining rising flood waters, according to an AFP reporter at the scene."I hope that today with the help from all teams he will be saved. I'm certain in my heart," Pean Kamlue, the mother of a 16-year-old boy in the cave, told AFP.
    The harrowing rescue operations have captivated the country and prompted emotional outpourings on social media and from the country's top leaders.
    Officials said late Tuesday they spotted a second opening into to cave and would try to lower divers and supplies into the hole as helicopters were dispatched to survey the area.
    Soldiers also scoured the scene on foot overnight searching for more entry points.
    The young football team, called the "Boars", and their 25-year-old coach are familiar to the area and know the cave well, officials said.
    They went into the cave after football practice on Saturday and a mother of one of the young players alerted authorities when her son did not come home.
    Bicycles, shoes and backpacks belonging to the young footballers were found near the cave's entrance, and divers said they discovered footprints and handprints inside one of the chambers on Monday.
    A sign at the cave's entrance warns visitors not to enter the cave during the rainy season from July to November.Rains were forecast all day Wednesday.
    Distraught relatives have been camped out for days praying for the team's safe return.
    The desperate search for 12 children and their football coach trapped in a flooded cave in northern Thailand pressed into its fourth night Tuesday as distraught relatives prayed and awaited news about the missing youngsters.
    The dramatic rescue operation has captivated the country as scores of Navy divers, soldiers and police descended on the cave where the young football team and their coach have been stuck since Saturday. The boys, aged between 11 and 16, went into the cave after football practice and were trapped after heavy rains flooded the chambers and blocked the main entrance. The group is believed to have retreated to the back of the cave as heavy rains continued to fall, slowly raising water levels inside the complex network in northern Chiang Rai province that spans 7km. After days of desperately searching, officials said Tuesday they found a previously undiscovered opening in a section of the cave that they would attempt to helicopter rescuers and food into.“If we find them, the first thing is to provide first aid and food before thinking of how to bring them back up,” Interior Minister General Anupong Paochinda told reporters.
    “We will not stop, we will work 24 hours. We’re racing against time, and we want them to be safe,” he said, adding that the boys had some food with them when they went into the cave.
    Helicopters hovered overhead as large crowds amassed around the cave’s muddy entrance, including wailing parents in plastic raincoats who prayed for the team’s safe return.
    “I asked for all God’s wishes, but I’m certain in my heart that they will survive. They have been inside the cave before,” the father of one of the young footballers said.
    One relative fainted while others waited under a makeshift tent near a shrine with dolls, spiritual offerings and messages for the young boys.Please return to your family, please let no harm be done to you,” one mother said in prayer.
    The Tham Luang cave near the Laos and Myanmar border is popular among locals who visit in the dry season to worship the small Buddha statues inside.
    A sign outside the remote site warns visitors not to enter during the rainy season from July to November when flood risk runs high.
    Bicycles, backpacks and football boots were found near the entrance of the cave and divers said Monday they spotted footprints and handprints in one of the chambers that are believed to belong to the boys.
    Continued rainfall has hampered rescue efforts but a new dam eight kilometers (five miles) long was being built Tuesday to try and prevent more water from flooding the site.
    Electric cables were also laid to provide lighting inside some parts of the blacked out tunnels and an underwater robot was dispatched to survey the area.
    The football team, dubbed the “Boars”, are familiar to the area and have previously visited the cave, officials said.
    The rescue operation echoed a grim accident in 2007 when eight people were killed as flash floods swept through a cave in Thailand’s southern Khao Sok national park.
    Six foreign tourists and two local guides died, while the fiance of one of the victims survived by clinging onto a ledge for 21 hours.
    Thailand Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha said Tuesday additional security forces were deployed to the scene and he called for national prayers.
    “I want the media and everyone to support the children and coach and wish for their safety,” he said.
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