1 / 3Officials did not clarify whether the complex effort to dive the team out of the kilometres-long Tham Luang cave in northern Thailand had commenced
Thai authorities told media on Sunday to leave a camp site near the cave where 12 boys and their coach have been trapped for more than two weeks so that "victims" could be helped, possibly signalling a long-awaited rescue effort to get them out.
The "Wild Boars" team has been confined to the Tham Luang cave since June 23, when they went in after practice and were hemmed in by monsoon floods.
Their plight has transfixed Thailand and the rest of the world, with more than 1,000 journalists registered to cover the rescue staking out a small patch of muddy land at the top of a hill near the entrance.
"Everyone who is not involved with the operations has to get out of the area immediately," police announced via loudspeaker at the site on Sunday morning.
"From the situation assessment, we need to use the area to help victims."
They gave a deadline of 9:00 am (0200 GMT) to clear out, setting off a frenzy of moving and packing.
The order to leave the site came as irritation over the media presence grew, and a day after the rescue mission chief said conditions were perfect for the evacuation to begin.
It also came as fears mounted that expected rains could thwart the plan by reflooding the cave.
Officials did not clarify on Sunday morning whether the complex effort to dive the team out of the kilometres-long Tham Luang cave in northern Thailand had started.
But the head of the mission, Narongsak Osottanakorn, on Saturday suggested they would try in the coming days, even though the boys were weak and had no previous diving experience.
"Now and in the next three or four days, the conditions are perfect (for evacuation) in terms of the water, the weather and the boys' health," Narongsak told reporters.
Sustained heavy rains could make the water rise to the shelf where the children were sitting, reducing the area to "less than 10 square meters", he added.
Torrential rain pounded the area for around half an hour on Saturday night, highlighting the urgency.
The death of a former Thai Navy Seal diver who ran out of oxygen in the cave on Friday underscored the danger of the journey even for adept professionals.
On Saturday another 10 members of the rescue mission -- part of a team assigned to explore the mountain to look for chimneys that might lead to the cave -- were injured when a car they were travelling in fell off a cliff.
Their injures were not believed to be serious.
The site near the cave's entrance had swelled with media, volunteers and onlookers since the operation started, and patience has worn thin.
Mission chief Narongsak said in recent days that medic teams had complained about the media presence and they told him "it will be a problem if they have a real emergency situation".