Cyclone Ockhi: Kerala toll toches 24; over 90 fiermen still missing

92 fishermen still missing; protests against govt apathy continue

Cyclone Ockhi: Kerala toll toches 24; over 90 fiermen still missing

The number of people reported dead in Kerala in four days after the formation of cyclonic storm Ockhi on the Arabian Sea reached 24 on Sunday, amid concerns over 92 fishermen still missing from the state's shores.

The India Meteorological Department (IMD) located the now-weakened cyclonic storm in the afternoon at about 450 km west-northwest of Aminidivi, 860 km south-southwest of Mumbai and 1070 km south-southwest of Surat. Over the next 72 hours, it is expected to re-curve towards south Gujarat and north Maharashtra.

Joint Search and Rescue operations by the Indian Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard continued off the coasts of Thiruvananthapuram and Kollam. Eight unidentified men were brought dead to the Thiruvananthapuram Government Medical College Hospital on Sunday. Three bodies were recovered off the Kollam coast. An evening update from the State Revenue Department said 690 people have been rescued in the joint operation. A total of 1,597 families are housed in 37 camps.

On a day Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan made his first visit to an affected coastal area, Vizhinjam in Thiruvananthapuram, protests continued against alleged government apathy. Vijayan's late evening visit was also marked by protests by fishermen. Earlier in the day, the chief minister chaired a meeting to take stock of the situation, in the presence of Minister of State for Tourism K J Alphons. "The search operations will continue with the same intent. It has been decided to involve fishermen in the search and rescue teams,' Vijayan said. Alphons said there was no provision for the Centre to declare the cyclonic storm a national disaster, as requested by the state government.

Fishermen in Thiruvananthapuram and Kollam ventured out into the sea for their own search operation. Many stranded fishermen from Kerala were on Sunday reported to have reached the shores of Lakshadweep, Karnataka and Maharashtra.

Alert row rages on

Allegations that the state government responded late to an alert sounded by central agencies regarding the deep depression before it formed the cyclonic storm led to more political posturing around the disaster. Union Minister Alphons endorsed the state's view that a specific cyclone alert was issued only on November 30 but later clarified that the "seriousness" of the deep depression was conveyed to the state government two days earlier.

Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, who arrived here in the evening, headed for affected areas in neighbouring Kanyakumari in Tamil Nadu. The minister is scheduled to visit the coastal regions of Thiruvananthapuram on Monday.

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