Six men entered the cave in Cleveland on Friday around 7 p.m., said Billy Chrimes, search and rescue coordinator for the Virginia Department of Emergency Management.
One of those men emerged from the cave on Sunday morning around 2 a.m.
He told authorities on Sunday that the others were having difficulty getting out. He said they were exhausted and were starting to have problems with hypothermia, Chrimes said.
Another man was rescued Sunday afternoon and is being assessed, said Jess Powers, emergency management coordinator for Russell County.
The rescue teams have gone back inside to help the other four men, Powers said.
The men are not far into the cave and they are not considered lost, Chrimes added.
The cave where the man are trapped is known as Cyclops Cave for the “bubble-like formation” known as the “eye” of the Cyclops, Powers said.
The cave is popular with explorers, although it is on private property. Tony Smith, who owns a cattle ranch next to the caves, told CNN affiliate WJHL there are five big caves stretching for around 9 miles.
The group was planning to camp in the cave until Sunday, Powers said.
A heavy downpour Saturday night made conditions muddy and wet and likely contributed to their difficulties, he said.
The five men who were trapped earlier Sunday are between the ages of 34 and 59.
The group did not have a lot of extra food or water, Chrimes said.
Rescue will take hours
The temperature underground is in the 50s, which can be comfortable under normal circumstances, but can contribute to hypothermia when you’re not active and moving, Chrimes said.
Members of a wide network of cave rescue teams responded to the emergency, and additional teams across the East Coast are on standby, Chrimes said.
The rescue effort will likely take a considerable amount of time because of the small size of the cave, Chrimes said.
Rescue teams also will have to get inside, assess the situation and report back because cell phones and radios don’t work inside the cave.
“With cave rescue incidents, this has the potential to extend to eight, to 12 hours, depending on what all is involved with getting the subjects out, and it may even extend beyond that just depending on the circumstances,” Chrimes said.
“Certainly we’re hoping for the best and that we can get them warmed up, get them moving, get them some energy back and get them out under their own power, but we’re still waiting to see what that situation will entail.”