The air was thick with anxiety, heavy sighs, prayers, and wails and whispers of close to a thousand people who had been waiting on the shore for the last three days. They had been waiting for their sons, husbands, brothers and friends. As the rescue boats appeared, bobbing on the rough sea, there was silence, a sudden pall of gloom.They were not sure what to expect. Most boats brought dead bodies to the Vizhinjam Harbour, around 15 kms south of Thiruvananthapuram, on December 3.
As the rescue workers took out the bodies, wails rose from the hundreds of women, some swarmed around a church and some at a mosque, both dotting the shoreline. Beyond them a mini Christ the Redeemer stood spreading its arms. Below it, hundreds of women cried their hearts out as hundreds of fishermen were still reportedly missing in the sea after Cyclone Ockhi wreaked havoc on the southern districts of Kerala and Tamil Nadu before it moved towards Lakshadweep, threatening to lick up the tiny islands of the archipelago.
“They all are our sons,” one elderly woman cried as a rescue boat appeared on the choppy waters. “Holy Mother…” she cried out under the makeshift shed in front of the church as the ambulance and its staff got ready for the approaching rescue boat.
There was palpable tension among the fishermen on the shore as they believed the authorities could have done better with rescue operations. Some of them shouted at the reporters and photographers, threatening to smash the cameras.
Till December 3, the death toll was 26 in Kerala but it is likely to go up as in spite of the over 500 fishermen who have been rescued, many more are believed to be trapped in the deep sea.
“We are not sure of how many people are missing,” said a police officer, one of the hundreds on duty on the shore. “At least five dead bodies have been brought to the shore today (December 3),” he said, adding that, “hundreds of them (fishermen)” were believed to be missing. At the end of Sunday, December 3, there was some relief with the news of 68 boats with close to a thousand fishermen reaching Mumbai coast. The National Disaster Management Authority, Coast Guard and Navy have rescued over 220 fishermen and evacuated thousands of people from cyclone hit areas. Rescue and relief operation were continuing.
The fishermen who have been rescued and are in hospital are yet to come out of the shock of encountering death face-to-face. “These fishermen know the sea like the palm of their hand, and are used to strong winds and high waves but certainly not a cyclone,” said Mohammed Naseer, who lives at Beemapally, neighbouring Vizhinjam. “We have never seen anything like this,” he added. “It was the first time we were experiencing such huge waves and a rough sea,” Stephan, one of the rescued fishermen, told PTI. Close to 50 fishermen are admitted in the Medical College Hospital, Thiruvananthapuram.
Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan visited the cyclone-hit villages in the southern region but an angry crowd of fishermen took out a protest march and blocked his vehicle. Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman visited Vizhinjam and neighbouring regions.
Making a landfall in the southern districts of Kerala and Tamil Nadu, Ockhi has caused considerable destruction, and has battered the Lakshadweep islands of Minicoy, Kalpeni and Kavaratti before letting up and began to move towards west-northwest.
The surging sea and high waves have eaten up many houses and buildings on the shoreline, rendering many homeless. Across Kerala, there are close to 1500 families in relief camps after Ockhi made a sever landfall on the coastal areas. The government has made an early estimate of loss close to Rs 7.5 crore, and has appealed the Central Government to declare Ockhi as a national disaster.
A Met department bulletin said that the ‘very severe’ cyclonic storm Ockhi — which in Bengali means ‘eye’ — is likely to intensify further in the next 24 hours. It is likely to continue to move west-northwestwards across Lakshadweep islands during the next 24 hours and then recurve north-eastwards during the subsequent 48 hours.