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Four of 12 Thai schoolboys were rescued from a flooded cave on Sunday in a daring and risky operation to save the children and their soccer coach who have been trapped underground for more than two weeks.

Thai police officers stand guard at the blocking area in front of the oxygen tanks on a vehicle during rescue operations to save a soccer team at Tham Luang cave in Khun Nam Nang Non Forest Park, Chiang Rai province, Thailand.

The boys, aged between 11 and 16, and their 25-year-old coach became stranded when they went exploring in the cave after a practice football game.

A source inside the Chiang Rai Prachanukroh hospital where the boys are being kept said their condition was "not bad" but said doctors were watching for signs of emerging conditions such as hypothermia.

Divers had to hold the boys close to their bodies to bring them out and each had to wear an oxygen mask to enable normal breathing, authorities said.

Ambulances were seen racing from the cave site and the road had been cleared by authorities to allow a quick route to the provincial hospital.

Rescue workers along the main road leading to Tham Luang Nang Non cave as the first 2 ambulances carrying 2 boys pass by on July 8. Thai navy SEALs say four of the 12 soccer team members are out of the cave.

To make matters worse, rescuers are facing a "war with water and time" as risky monsoon storms and torrential rainfall could derail the mission.

According to our correspondent, Thai officials have warned the rescue could take three or four days in the worst case scenario.

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Their disappearance triggered a massive global search and rescue operation involving officials, soldiers and volunteers from the United States, Britain, Australia, Germany, Japan and China, among others.

Fox News reported that rescue operators believed the first phase of the operation would take about 12 hours.

"As all of us said, the main thing is we still need more than 20 hours to get ready", Narongsak said.

The successful rescue of four boys comes as authorities confirmed last week that a former Thai Navy SEAL had died while attempting to rescue the young football team.

As the monsoon rains begin, water is being pumped out of the caves and a plan is being developed to bring them to safety.

Two divers accompanied each boy throughout the narrow cave passageways, guided by a rope.

Precautions are being taken to keep the boys from spreading infections they might have developed.

"There are two obstacles, which are water and time", Narongsak said. "Finding the boys doesn't mean we've finished our mission". The rescuers and boys will have to contend with navigating tight passageways filled with muddy water and strong currents, as well as with oxygen-depleted air.

As the second phase of the operation got underway on Monday night (AEST), the region's acting governor admitted they were "afraid of the rain". "You don't need to be anxious about me".