Thai authorities are evacuating an area around a cave in northern Thailand where a dozen boys and their soccer coach have been trapped for two weeks so that a "rescue operation" can take place.
The announcement came as dark monsoon rainclouds loomed over the mountainous north of the country early Sunday local time, potentially heightening risks at the cave where rescuers were still waging a "war with water and time" to save the 12 trapped boys and their assistant coach, Reuters reports.
The boys, aged between 11 and 16, went missing with the 25-year-old chaperone after soccer practice on June 23 as they set out to explore the Tham Luang cave complex in a forest park near the border with Myanmar.
"Assessing the situation now, it is necessary to evacuate the area for the rescue operation," said Mae Sai police commander Komsan Sa-ardluan over a loudspeaker. "Those unrelated to the rescue operation, please evacuate the area immediately."
Following a relatively dry spell, fresh torrential downpours could pose a setback to rescuers who have struggled to drain the Tham Luang cave complex in the northern province of Chiang Rai. Weather.com forecast sustained thunderstorms lasting through Sunday and Monday, with further stormy weather expected for the next two weeks.
Narongsak Osottanakorn, a former provincial governor leading the effort, said the "ideal time" for a rescue could come in the next two or three days. "We're still at war with water and time," he told reporters.
A former member of Thailand's elite navy SEAL unit died during a dive on Thursday night, a grim turn in what began two weeks ago as an outing to celebrate the birthday of one of the boys.
Billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk posted on Twitter that a team from his rocket company SpaceX in Los Angeles is building a mini-sub to help with the rescue.
"Got more great feedback from Thailand. Primary path is basically a tiny, kid-size submarine... Light enough to be carried by 2 divers, small enough to get through narrow gaps. Extremely robust," Musk tweeted, adding it would take eight hours to construct and 17 hours to transport to Thailand.