Mexican authorities have said they are finally in a position to begin searching a flooded coal mine, where 10 workers have been trapped for more than a week, offering fresh hope to anguished relatives.
"We have all the conditions to go down there today... to search for and rescue the miners," civil defence national coordinator Laura Velazquez said on Friday.
Velazquez said the rescue operation would become possible once "97 percent of the water" has been extracted from the nearly 60-metre deep mine in the town of Agujita in the northern state of Coahuila.
Several hundred rescuers, including soldiers and military scuba divers, are taking part in efforts to save the miners missing since August 3.
On Thursday, rescuers had made several attempts to go into the main tunnels but found debris blocking their way that needed to be removed.
The water level in one of the three vertical shafts that rescuers will try to enter has been reduced to 70 centimetres, from more than 30 meters initially, Defence Minister Luis Cresencio Sandoval said.
The other two shafts still have 3.9 and 4.7 metres of water. Authorities consider 1.5 metres to be an acceptable water level to gain access to the crudely constructed El Pinabete mine.
Clinging for hope
The government's latest announcement provided a new glimmer of hope for families that have become increasingly frustrated with the pace of the rescue operation.
"With that level (of water) you can already enter –– God willing," David Huerta, the brother-in-law of one of the trapped workers, told the AFP news agency.
The 35-year-old said that he himself had dug for coal in small artisanal mines like El Pinabete for nearly 13 years before abandoning the dangerous, gruelling work.
At the bottom of the vertical shafts rescuers will reach the underground tunnels where the digging takes place, and where the missing miners are probably located, Huerta said.
"Crews can go in there and search faster," he added.
Coahuila, Mexico's main coal-producing region, has seen a series of fatal mining incidents over the years.
The worst accident was an explosion that claimed 65 lives at the Pasta de Conchos mine in 2006.
Last year, seven died when they were trapped in a mine in the region.