Thai authorities have ordered an evacuation of the site around the cave entrance in which 12 young footballers and their coach are stranded to allow for a “rescue operation”.
“Assessing the situation now, it is necessary to evacuate the area for the rescue operation,” The Guardian reports Mae Sai police commander Komsan Sa-ardluan saying over a loudspeaker at the site.
“Those unrelated to the rescue operation, please evacuate the area immediately.”
There has been a recent flurry of activity at the site. Ambulances have started to gather at the site, American divers have arrived and the nearby relatives’ room is empty.
“Officials also announced that during the operation no one is allowed to take photos and if any unsuitable photos come out the person will be held responsible,” The Guardian reports.
Ten ambulances lined up inside the rescue area, four choppers down the road, the area is being quarantined of media. Steady rain overnight appears to have forced the hand of rescuers and brought forward an evacuation at #Thamluangcave pic.twitter.com/ABcRe8e6kv
— amanda hodge (@hodgeamanda) 8 July 2018
There has been speculation mounting for some hours that the rescue operation is already under way.
Worried that heavy monsoon rain could soon make the job even more difficult, Thai officials said earlier on Saturday they may need to quickly rescue 12 boys and their soccer coach from a partially flooded cave by helping them make risky dives to safety.
The boys, ages 11-16, and their 25-year-old coach have been trapped for two weeks — since June 23, when they went exploring in northern Thailand’s Tham Luang Nang Non cave after a practice game.
Monsoon flooding cut off their escape and prevented rescuers from finding them for almost 10 days.
The only way to reach them was by navigating dark and tight passageways filled with muddy water and strong currents, as well as oxygen-depleted air.
Getting out via the same route looks like the only feasible option, but a high-risk one, Thai officials say. Experienced cave rescue experts consider an underwater escape a last resort, especially with people untrained in diving, as the boys are.
The path out is considered especially complicated because of twists and turns in narrow flooded passages.
The local governor supervising the rescue mission said Saturday that mild weather and falling water levels over the last few days had created appropriate conditions for an underwater evacuation, but that they won’t last if it rains again.