Around 200 fishermen from Poonthura and Vizhinjam villages in Kerala on Sunday ignored weather warnings and took boats out into the Arabian Sea to rescue fellow fisherfolk, but when they came back with bodies, rage rose in the coastal hamlets against the state government’s rescue efforts.
The Kerala government on Sunday said 96 fishermen were missing, four days after the state’s coast felt the first impact of Cyclone Ockhi. The death toll is now 25.
Search ships and aircraft of the Navy, Air Force and the Coast Guard rescued 60 people on Sunday.
But fishermen in Thiruvananthapuram’s coastal villages said the state government had failed to act promptly and it had not taken the help of local fishermen who know the coast well. Many fishermen from Poonthura and Vizhinjam are missing.
While the men went looking for their missing fellows, the women huddled at the shore or in the local church compound. By evening, the early teams of fishermen returned, with bodies.
“We haven’t seen such a massive tragedy on this coast. The government failed to conduct a prompt search. Our search teams have seen several empty boats. In the past three days, we have been pleading the rescue agencies to take help from our men as we are familiar with the coast,’’ said A Joseph, a trustee of the local church.
Enraged residents prevented Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and his cabinet colleagues at Vizhinjam from visiting families of the missing fishermen. Vijayan cancelled the visit to Poonthura, where 30 are still missing. He said: “The service of the fishermen would also be used for the search in the coming days.’’
The Navy said the search had been expanded to 100 miles away from the coast and beyond the waters of Lakshadweep.
Union Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman reached Thiruvananthapuram on Sunday evening but moved to Kanyakumari to visit cyclone affected areas there. “An update on the search and rescue efforts being done by the Indian Navy, Coast Guard and Air Force to save the lives of fishermen affected by #CycloneOckhi: 357 fishermen have been saved as of 10 am today,” she tweeted.
The blame game between Kerala government and the Centre over when the state was alerted took a twist on Sunday when Union Minister of State for Tourism Alphons Kannanthanam seemed to agree with the Kerala government’s stand that states got the “warning about Ockhi only at 12 noon on November 30”.
“Hence, fishermen could not be given an early warning. Besides, the direction of the wind kept changing. Hence, a clear warning about the cyclone could not be given on time.’’ Hours later he said the central agencies had given necessary alerts on November 28 and 29, reported PTI.
Harsh Vardhan, the minister of Science & Technology, Environment and Forests, said in a statement that IMD “started warnings for heavy rainfall and strong winds for Kerala and South Tamil Nadu from 28th November itself. On 29th afternoon, they issued the first bulletin of the cyclone warning and conveyed to all district officials, state disaster management authority and the Chief Secretary. In the first bulletin, the information was clearly provided on the possibility of further intensification of the system into a cyclonic storm and associated adverse weather. In the bulletin, there was clear message for fishermen not to venture into the sea during next 48 hours.”
NCP’s Lakshadweep MP Mohammad Faizal said the Islands have suffered a loss of over Rs 500 crore.
— With PTI inputs
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