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21 Jul 2018 8:32
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  •   Home > News > Sports > Soccer

    Thai cave rescue: Volunteers from around the country come to help support the operation

    Hundreds of volunteers have set up a 24-hour tent city in the middle of a remote national park to help support the operation to find and rescue 12 boys and their soccer coach, with ordinary people travelling from around the country to support the rescue e

    An extraordinary community has sprung up on the sidelines of the cave rescue in northern Thailand.

    The operation to find and rescue the 12 boys and their soccer coach has so transfixed this nation of 70 million, that in the two weeks since the team first disappeared, ordinary Thais in their droves have travelled from around the country to support the rescue effort.

    As navy divers and Thai soldiers work around the clock to free the boys, hundreds of volunteers have set up a 24-hour tent city in the middle of a remote national park to feed and support them.

    Virtually everything here is free. Food and drink stalls serve thousands of meals every day to anyone who wants one.

    A medical tent offers free health care or even a stretcher bed to lie down for weary rescue workers. There's even a tent where barbers are cutting hair for free.

    The camaraderie is heart-warming, and it is a welcome change in a country where most of the big news events of the past decade have involved conflict or sadness — military coups, political violence and the 2016 death of the country's beloved King Bhumipol Adulyadej.

    It is his son, Thailand's new king — Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun — who initially seemed to shun the role expected of him when he inherited the throne, who has provided most of the food.

    Every day — at the expense of Thailand's royal palace — truckloads of food are delivered to the stalls, where volunteers unload them and begin cooking.

    Rattanaporn Tupbumrung runs a stall of women who work all day churning out free meals of Thai cucumber salad and coconut pie.

    "It's my duty," she says.

    "The king has asked us to look after the people here.

    "We're so thrilled that the king is supporting the rescue."

    At the stall opposite, Jetsadaporn Pangpikphum pours with sweat in the tropical heat as he cooks a huge pan of Thai curry.

    A single pan would feed easily 20 people, and he estimates that yesterday alone he cooked at least twenty pans. He has paid for much of the food himself.

    "I run a pig farm 30 kilometres away," he says.

    "But I saw that ordinary Thai people were helping out here, and I wanted to do my bit."

    He began work at 6:00am and won't finish until midnight, "as long as there are still people who need to be fed", he says.

    The number of people wanting meals here has soared in the days since searchers found the soccer team alive inside the cave on Monday.

    As the search swung into a rescue phase, expert divers — including an Australian Federal Police tactical dive team — have arrived from around the world. The number of Thai soldiers co-ordinating the rescue effort has expanded to more than 1,000.

    And as the boys' story has gripped the world, journalists too have poured in. Two huge tents have become a makeshift media centre, surrounded by a sea of tripods, television cameras and lights.

    As journalists sit and wait for news of the rescue, a massive military operation goes on around them.

    A telecommunications tower is set up to supply the sudden need for phone and internet connection.

    Down the hill huge machines pump thousands of litres of water every hour out of the cave complex.

    A long row of tents near the entrance to the cave houses the dive teams from around the world. The divers come and go from the caves' entrance, carrying their tanks and masks.

    At the same time a constant line of trucks arrives with food, medical supplies, and gear for the rescue, before turning around and heading back to town for more.

    As the monsoon season sets in, this miniature town has expanded over what was a barren field on the side of the mountain.

    The heavy rains and the feet of so many people have turned the once hard dirt into the most exquisitely squelching mud — ankle deep and resembling chocolate gelati.

    A large bulldozer spends most of the day scooping the mud from one end of the muddiest area to another, before trucks deliver several loads of gravel, to try to control the mud.

    So muddy is the area, that the rescue operation has become a de facto fashion parade of gumboots. Everyone is wearing them.

    Thai military personnel romp around in lurid orange boots that extend above the knee. Others wear faux-leather boots folded down at the top.

    There are gumboots in every colour and style.

    Journalist David Blackmore, from Britain's ITV network, had no choice but to buy garish green boots that were a size too small.

    "When I look at all the others I'm quite envious really. I've got boot envy of everyone styling it out with black or brown," he laughs.

    "And here's me with my light green see-through boots."

    © 2018 ABC Australian Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved

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