Rescue workers walk out from a cave in Mae Sai, Chiang Rai province, northern Thailand, Wednesday, June 27, 2018. Heavy rains are hampering efforts to rescue the 12 boys and their soccer coach who have been missing inside the flooded cave in northern Thailand for four days. (AP Photo/Tassanee Vejpongsa) Image Credit: AP

Mae Sai, Thailand: Rescuers battled heavy rains Wednesday as they struggled to drain a flooded cave in Thailand where 12 children and their football coach have been trapped for days, as desperate relatives clung to hope the boys will be rescued soon.

The young football team, aged between 11 an 16, have been stuck in the Tham Luang cave in northern Thailand since Saturday night after monsoon rains blocked the main entrance.

Hundreds of rescuers worked overnight to install high-pressure water pumps to reduce flooding in the cave, but it was a losing battle as rains continued to pound the area in northern Chiang Rai province near the Laos and Myanmar borders.

"Rising water levels is major obstacle in the rescue operation, and it rained hard last night," Khanchit Chomphudaeng, the provincial secretary in charge of the rescue operation, told AFP.

Family members pass their time as they wait for their children near Tham Luang caves during a search for 12 members of an under-16 soccer team and their coach, in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, June 27, 2018. Reuters

He said 1,000 people had been mobilised for the search, including air and ground teams and divers. The Army also dispatched special operation troops to aid the rescue.

Rescue workers walk out from a cave in Mae Sai, Chiang Rai province, northern Thailand, Wednesday, June 27, 2018. Heavy rains are hampering efforts to rescue the 12 boys and their soccer coach who have been missing inside the flooded cave in northern Thailand for four days.  AP

Thai Navy SEAL said on their Facebook page that water levels rose 15 centimetres (six inches) overnight and that a third chamber of the complex cave network, believed to be several kilometres long, was now flooded.

Soldiers carried large hoses into the cave Wednesday to continue draining rising flood waters, according to an AFP reporter at the scene.

Rescue workers continue to search for a group of missing boys and their coach in a flooded cave, Tuesday, June 26, 2018, in Mae Sai, Chiang Rai province, northern Thailand. Electricians are extending a power line into a flooded cave in northern Thailand to help the search and rescue efforts for 12 boys and their soccer coach stranded three nights in the sprawling caverns and cut off by rising water.  AP

Distraught relatives have been camped out for days praying for the team's safe return.

"I hope that today with the help from all teams he will be saved. I'm certain in my heart," Pean Kamlue, the mother of a 16-year-old boy in the cave, told AFP.

The harrowing rescue operations have captivated the country and prompted emotional outpourings on social media and from the country's top leaders.

Divers

Officials said late Tuesday they spotted a second opening into to cave and would try to lower divers and supplies into the hole as helicopters were dispatched to survey the area.

Soldiers also scoured the scene on foot overnight searching for more entry points.

The young football team, called the "Boars", and their 25-year-old coach are familiar to the area and know the cave well, officials said.

They went into the cave after football practice on Saturday and a mother of one of the young players alerted authorities when her son did not come home.

Bicycles, shoes and backpacks belonging to the young footballers were found near the cave's entrance, and divers said they discovered footprints and handprints inside one of the chambers on Monday.

A sign at the cave's entrance warns visitors not to enter the cave during the rainy season from July to November.

Rains were forecast all day Wednesday.