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Thai rescuers establish base deep in cave where boys, coach trapped

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Thai officials leading a massive effort to rescue 12 boys and their assistant soccer coach from a flooded cave said Sunday they had set up a working base deep inside a passageway and expressed optimism about their progress as bad weather eased.

Monsoon rains have complicated the frantic search for the children, aged 11 to 16, and the coach who have not been heard from since they ventured into the Tham Luang cave last Saturday in northern Thailand and were blocked by heavy rains. But a break in the wet weather and the establishment of a forward operating base inside the twisting chambers has raised hopes that the 13 could be located and tended to soon.

"Today what we have to do is to rush to the kids," Thai Navy Seal commander and Rear Admiral Apakorn Yookongkaew told reporters at the site. "We will not stop until we find them."

Responders are placing extra oxygen tanks along the walls and lighting in hopes that they can provide a path to an airy chamber called Pattaya Beach where officials believe the team may have taken shelter. The base will also help rescuers bring the boys out if and when they are found, and provide them with immediate food and medical assistance.

"We have a plan today for the next process after the rescue. We have a plan about what to do, how the treatment will be," Chiang Rai Governor Narongsak Osottanakorne said, adding that they were also exploring entering the cave by drilling from above.

The upbeat attitude comes after a week of heavy rains that pounded the area near the Myanmar and Laos borders, making it difficult to reach deeper into the 10-kilometer recesses of Tham Luang.

"I'm feeling happy like I've never felt in a long time. Many good signs," the soccer team's head coach Nopparat Khanthavong, 37, told AFP on Sunday.

"The rain has stopped and rescue teams have found potential ways to reroute the waterway," diverting its flow so no more enters the cave, he said. "The families are feeling much better too."

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