When the deluge submerged hundreds of villages in central Kerala, fishermen stepped in to help thousands of stranded people.
Fighting back memories of their dear ones lost in the Ockhi tragedy, over 1,400 fishermen from coastal villages of Thiruvananthapuram, Kollam, Alappuzha and Ernakulam rushed to the affected villages. With 600-odd country vessels, they ventured into the most remote corners of the affected areas. On Saturday, out of the 54,000 persons rescued in Ernakulam district, 18,000 were saved by fishermen who deployed 240 boats there.
National Fish Workers Co-ordination forum secretary T Peter said the fishermen ventured into the rescue mission spontaneously. “When we put out the suggestion in social media groups, many fishermen expressed their willingness to join the rescue work. The fishermen took it up as their responsibility. When our social media groups got distress calls and messages about people stranded in submerged houses, we passed on the location details to the fishermen,’’ he said.
Lalu Alex, a fisherman from Mariyapuram in Thiruvananthapuram, said their village has sent 60 country vessels with 150 persons. “On August 15, when we heard about the news, our parish priest said we should go and help the people trapped in water. On that night itself, we started moving from various villages to Chengannur, Ernakulam and Thrissur with vessels loaded in trucks. We took along kerosene and food,’’ he said.
Another fisherman Varghese Stephen said the fishermen abandoned their means of livelihood to save lives. “This is the best season for a seagoing fisherman. A person can make up to Rs 5,000 in a trip if he goes for fishing now. We have left the opportunity to make some money. But, we don’t have any complaints.’’
A Revenue Department officer, who is co-ordinating the rescue mission in Chengannur, said the fishermen were involved in the most risky part of rescue efforts. “They went to several houses, swimming against heavy currents. I have seen how difficult it was to manoeuvre the vessels through flooded narrow alleys and roads, where damaged civic infrastructure posed a serious threat. They even entered flooded wells, risking their lives. While uniformed persons rescued three or four persons in a single attempt, fishermen’s boats came back with 10-15 persons,’’ he said.
The uniformed men ventured into the water with safety jackets, but the asset of the fishermen was their courage and experience in choppy waters. The only equipment in the vessels was GPS, using which they located the houses of those stranded. A local person also moved around in their vessels to show the areas to be evacuated.
Anto Elias, from Veli in Thiruvananthapuram, said many vessels have been damaged after they hit walls and electric posts. “But we have no complaints. We could save lives from very difficult areas. Only dampening experience was the reluctance of some people to come out of the flooded houses. They don’t even understand our risk,’’ he said.
Acknowledging the fishermen’s service, Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan on Sunday announced that all the fishermen who took part in the rescue mission would be felicitated. “The fishermen had intervened in a great way. Many of their vessels got damaged. The government would compensate them for the loss suffered. Apart from that, a boat would be given Rs 3,000 a day and the state would meet the fuel expenses,’’ he said.