Ockhi: Kerala death toll climbs to 40, 250 fishermen return

Ockhi: Kerala death toll climbs to 40, 250 fishermen return

The death toll in the Ockhi cyclone in Kerala rose to 40 today with the recovery of two more bodies, even as search operations to trace the missing fishermen entered the 10th day.

Meanwhile, a total of 250 fishermen, trapped in the high seas following the November 30 cyclone, returned to Kochi.

The fishermen had put out to sea from Kerala and Tamil Nadu coast and most of them were trapped in Lakshadweep area.

The fishermen, including 189 from neighbouring Tamil Nadu, arrived in Kochi by boats since last night, officials said.

Mourning the dead and the missing, the Christian community in the coastal belt near here observed a "prayer day" and sought Central funds for rehabilitation of the affected families.

A Defence spokesperson said one body was recovered off the coast of Minicoy in Lakshadweep islands and another fished out from near Kochi.

This took the death toll to 40 in the cyclone that hit the southern coast of the state. The cyclone had also left several fishermen stranded in the sea.

The spokesperson said an Indian Air Force transport aircraft covered 10,880 square nautical miles south of Kanyakumari coast in the Indian Ocean, while an AN-32 aircraft along with local fishermen also took part in the search and rescue operations.

The Navy said more than four lakh square nautical miles had been searched by Indian naval assets so far over the southeast Arabian Sea and Lakshadweep and Minicoy islands.

Following inputs from fishermen, an aerial search was carried out over Maldives after obtaining clearance through diplomatic channels, but no fishermen were found there.

"Nine ships and all available aircraft have continued the search operations. Long Range Maritime Reconnaissance aircraft P8I searched over entire Maldives," a Defence release said in Kochi tonight.

Officials confirmed that Maldivian locals undertook search and have not located any fishermen on the islands, it said.

'INS Subhadra', under routine deployment, transferred 1,500 litres of drinking water to 12 crew members on board two Tamil Nadu registered fishing vessels about 90 nautical miles northwest of Bitra island of Lakshdweep, the release said.

The ship also found two capsized fishing vessels and investigation revealed no survivors on board, which had been intimated to the state governments, it said.

A sombre atmosphere prevailed in the coastal villages of Poonthura, Vizhinjam, Pozhiyur and Adimalathura near here as men, women and children gathered at the local churches to offer special prayers since 6am.

The family members of 15-year-old Vineesh, the youngest fisher to have gone missing, was among those who offered prayers.

Addressing the people, St Thomas Church Vicar Justin Jude said Prime Minister Narendra Modi should visit the cyclone affected areas.

He also sought formation of a separate fishing ministry.

A message read out during the special prayer meetings in the churches, said the cyclone should be declared a national disaster and urged the Centre to provide more funds for rehabilitation of the victims.

The community members said they would take out a march to Raj Bhawan tomorrow to press for their demands.

Black flags were hoisted near the church to mourn the dead.

Special prayers were also held at the cemeteries as women and children wailed for the dead.

In neighbouring Kanyakumari, hundreds of people, including women, formed a human chain in remembrance of the dead and missing fishermen.

A demonstration was held in Tirunelveli district by the fishermen demanding steps to trace and rescue all the missing fishermen.

More than 500 fishermen held a brief demonstration in the sea off Muttam village in Kanyakumari district demanding Rs 20 lakh compensation for the families of the deceased.

Union minister Pon Radhakrishnan said some fishermen have joined the Indian Coast Guard crew in the search operations.

In a tweet, he said, "I am thankful to @DefenceMinIndia Smt @nsitharaman ji for the arrangements (Vaibhav ship) to search missing fishermen in deep sea region. Our Kanyakumari #Chinnathurai 5 #Thoothur 2 fishermen travelling along with our @IndiaCoastGuard crews for this operation."

As per the figures released by the Latin Church, more than 300 fishermen were still missing, while official estimate of the missing men from Kerala is 95.

Kerala has demanded a financial assistance of Rs 1,834 crore from the Centre in view of the loss suffered due to the cyclone.

Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan had yesterday met Home Minister Rajnath Singh and Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman in New Delhi to apprise them of the situation.

In a memorandum submitted to Singh, he urged the Centre to announce a long-term package similar to the National Cyclone Risk Mitigation Project considering the gravity of the disaster.

The cyclone also caused damage to crops in 2,053 hectares of land affecting 15,104 farmers.

A total of 207 houses were completely damaged while 2,753 partially suffered damage, the memorandum pointed out.

The Kerala government also requested the Navy, the Coast Guard and the Indian Air Force to continue the search operations for the missing fishermen for another 10 days. PTI UD JRK TGB CORR SSN VS ABH

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