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Heavy rain a threat to Thai cave rescue

Heavy rains forecast for northern Thailand could worsen flooding in a cave where 12 boys and their soccer coach are waiting to be extracted by rescuers.

This may possibly force authorities to have them swim out through a narrow, underwater passage in the cavern, a top official says.

The 13, who disappeared when flooding trapped them in the cave they were exploring on June 23 after a soccer game, were found by rescue divers late on Monday night in the cavern in northern Chiang Rai province during a desperate search.

The effort drew international help and has riveted Thailand.

The boys, aged 11 to 16, and their 25-year-old coach were described as healthy and being looked after by seven members of the Thai navy SEALs, including medics, who were staying with them inside the cave. They were mostly in stable condition and have received high-protein drinks.

Efforts to pump out floodwaters are continuing but it's clear that some areas of the sprawling cavern cannot be drained, said Interior Minister Anupong Paojinda, a member of Thailand's ruling military junta. To get them out ahead of the bad weather forecast for later in the week, they might need to use diving gear while being guided by professional divers, he said on Tuesday.

Anupong said the boys would be brought out via the same complicated route through which their rescuers entered, and he conceded that if something went awry, it could be disastrous.

"Diving is not easy. For people who have never done it, it will be difficult, unlike diving in a swimming pool, because the cave's features have small channels," he said. "If something happens midway, it could be life-threatening."

Video released by the Thai navy showed the boys in their soccer uniforms sitting in a dry area inside the Tham Luang Nang Non cave above the water as a light held by a rescuer was shone on their faces.

Cave rescue experts have said it could be safer to simply supply them where they are for now, rather than trying to have the boys dive out. That could take months, however, given that Thailand's rainy season typically lasts through October.

SEAL commander Rear Adm. Arpakorn Yookongkaew said there was no rush to bring them out, since they're safe where they are.

A doctor and a nurse were with them in the cave.

Having them dive out of the cave was one of several options being considered, "but if we are using this plan, we have to be certain that it will work and have to have a drill to make sure that it's 100 per cent safe", he said.

© AP 2018