Anxiety grips Kerala coast
Amidst the forecast that Very Severe Cyclonic Storm Ockhi could intensify further, Kerala’s coastal villages fell into the grip of anxiety on Saturday after bodies of five fishermen were brought ashore from the Arabian Sea where 126 fishermen were still feared to be stranded even as Lakshadweep, where the cyclone left a trail of destruction since Friday night, was cut off from mainland.
Seven deaths were reported in Kerala on Saturday taking the number of Ockhi-related deaths up to 14. A fisherman was killed in Kannur after a high-mast light collapsed on him in heavy rain and gushing wind. Water-logging led to the death of a 45-year-old man at Chellanam near Kochi. Ockhi had caused seven deaths in the State on Thursday and Friday. Fishermen feared that the toll could still go up as the search in the sea progressed.
Anxiety over the fate of the fishermen feared to have been trapped in turbulent sea transformed into rage and protests at Poonthura in Thiruvananthapuram. According to the authorities, 432 fishermen had been rescued from the sea so far. The Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard and other forces and agencies were carrying out the rescue work in the sea between Kerala and Lakshadweep.
Of the 126 fishermen to be rescued yet, 120 were people who had gone to sea from different places in Thiruvananthapuram. “Keralites and Tamil Nadu natives have gone to sea from here. The Government still doesn’t know how many are trapped in the sea. Also, they have no idea about the region where they can find them,” said Benjamin from Poonthura fishing hamlet.
However, the Government maintained that the rescue operation was progressing well and promised to bring back all those trapped in the sea. But the fishermen refused to be satisfied and reports said that 14 fishermen had gone to sea on Saturday afternoon to search for the stranded defying the warnings issued by the authorities.
Those rescued included the 104 fishermen from Kerala who had reached Lakshadweep in 13 boats, according to the Navy, which in coordination with Coast Guard, was carrying out the mission christened Operation Synergy. “We are committed to support and help the fishermen community to stay safe,” said Southern Naval Command chief Vice-Admiral AR Karve.
The Kerala Government announced a financial assistance of Rs 10 lakh to the families of each of those killed in Ockhi-related incidents and Rs 20,000 and free treatment for all those injured. Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said fair compensation would be provided to those who had lost their fishing implements like boats and nets.
On Saturday evening, Pinarayi visited two Government hospitals in Thiruvananthapuram where about 90 fishermen rescued from sea were admitted with injuries. “There will be no shortcoming in their treatment. The rescue work is progressing without any problem especially as the weather had turned somewhat calm,” he said.
The Indian Meteorology Department on Saturday said that Ockhi, categorized as very severe cyclone, was “very likely to intensify in the next 24 hours”. An IMD bulletin said, “It is very likely to continue to move north-northwestwards (from over Lakshadweep) during next 24 hours and then re-curve northeastwards during the subsequent 48 hours.”
Weathermen said that Lakshadweep would remain in the clutches of the cyclone throughout Saturday with heavy rains and gales continuing to lash it and the sea between Kerala and Lakshadweep remaining extremely turbulent. Gale-wind speeds might reach 100 KMPH to 110 KMPH over and around Lakshadweep islands during Saturday night, they said.
At the same time, weather remained largely calm across Kerala on Saturday after two days of furious activity. However, the authorities issued a 24-hour alert for the State. The alert was for 48 hours for Lakshadweep. Fishermen in Kerala and Lakshadweep were instructed not to go to sea for 48 hours as it could remain extremely turbulent despite the calmness seen in weather.
Meanwhile, Lakshadweep, lashed by the cyclone-generated winds and heavy showers since Friday night, remained isolated from mainland on Saturday after communications systems collapsed and extreme turbulence of the sea forced suspension of shipping services. Hundreds of islanders were stranded at Kochi and Beypore in Kozhikode, departure ports for Lakshadweep.
The 75-seater flight service from Andrott, where the only airstrip for Lakshadweep is situated, was suspended on Friday itself. Power and communications networks collapsed on Kalpeni and Minicoy islands. A breakwater and boat jetty at Kalpeni was washed away and the 130-year-old lighthouse at Minicoy suffered damages. However, no death had been reported from the islands.
The Indian Navy has been carrying out rescue operations in Lakshadweep and this helped in getting all the workers in 19 boats from Kochi to safety. An Uru –dhow-like cargo carrier – sank off Kavaratti but all the seven workers on it were rescued. Ten boats capsized off Minicoy and Kalpeni islands but all the workers were reportedly safe.
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