Defence Minister calls for calm, rescue ops to continue

Amid protests in coastal hamlets against Kerala authorities' reported failure in warning fishermen ahead of the cyclonic storm Ockhi, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman sought calm and made an assurance that rescue operations would continue till all the untraced fishermen were brought back.

Nirmala visited Vizhinjam and Poonthura on Monday and told the fisher-folk and their families that it was not a time for protests.

Fishermen protested at Poonthura where Tourism Minister Kadakampally Surendran and Fisheries Minister J Mercykutty Amma accompanied Nirmala on her visit to the affected areas.

Speaking in Tamil, she said alerts regarding the deep depression and the cyclone were sounded with the best available weather-warning systems.

"This is a time to learn new lessons. Let's not argue and play the blame game at this time of distress," she said.

The minister said the scale of the ongoing rescue operation was bigger than what was launched after the Tsunami.

"I assure you that the search and rescue operations won't stop till the last untraced fisherman is brought back," she said.

Later, she met Chief Minister Vijayan and senior government officials.

Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan's late Sunday visit to the coastal village of Vizhinjam was also marked by angry protests.

CM not spared

Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan's late Sunday visit to the coastal village of Vizhinjam was also marked by angry protests.

In five days since the cyclonic storm formed off the Kerala coast, 25 deaths have been reported.

85 fishermen who left the shores before the cyclone are still untraced.

The Kerala State Disaster Management Authority is in the line of fire following reports that it acted late on alerts from central agencies on possibilities of the deep depression turning into a cyclone.

The state government is facing criticism over a reported lack of coordination in the search and rescue operations.

The CPM-led government has maintained that the cyclone alert was received only on November 30 and all contingency measures were initiated.

The 22nd edition of the International Film Festival of Kerala will open here on Friday without the inaugural ceremony and cultural programmes, in view of the disaster.

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