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Amid jubilation, 4 more boys rescued

MAE SAI, Thailand (AP) – The leaders overseeing the desperate and dangerous rescue of 12 young soccer players and their coach from a flooded cave labyrinth in northern Thailand were only half joking when they quipped that success was in the hands of the rain god Phra Pirun.

They were celebrating a second triumph after divers guided four more boys through tight passages and flooded caverns to safety Monday. “Two days, eight Boars,” read a Facebook post by the Thai navy SEALS about the operation that began Sunday, more than two weeks after the Wild Boars soccer team became trapped. Another five still await rescue, including the team’s 25-year-old coach.

The eight rescued boys were recuperating in a hospital from their ordeal huddling on a dry patch inside the Tham Luan Nang Non cave that became flooded by monsoon rains while they were exploring it June 23. Their families were being kept at a distance because of fears of infection and the emaciated-looking boys were eating a rice-based porridge because they were still too weak to take regular food, authorities said.

Officials lavished praise on the Thai and international divers who executed the dangerous rescue mission, guiding boys who can barely swim and have no diving experience through a treacherous 4-kilometer-long (2 1/2-mile) escape route that twisted and turned and rose and fell inside the mountain cave complex. Highlighting the extreme dangers, a former Thai Navy SEAL died Friday while replenishing the oxygen canisters laid along the route.

But the chances of monsoon rains raising water in the cave again, endangering their dry refuge and making the escape route too risky, were never far from the minds of everyone involved.

Alluding to that worry, the regional army commander offered his thanks Monday to the rain god Phra Pirun, imploring him to “keep showing us mercy.”

“Give us three more days and the Boars will come out to see the world, every one of them,” Maj-Gen. Bancha Duriyapan told a news conference punctuated by applause from the dozens of Thai and foreign journalists and others in attendance.

“I beg Phra Pirun because the Meteorological Department said that from Monday on there will be continuous rain,” Bancha said. “If I ask too much, he might not provide it. So I’ve been asking for three days.”

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