Bengaluru/Chennai/Thiruvanthapuram: “Ten of my relatives are missing, that is my whole family. They wouldn’t have gone to the sea if we had received a warning yesterday morning," said one among the hundreds of women standing in the rain, awaiting the return of more than 300 boats, as per regional news reports, which ventured into the sea in the last 48 hours, outside their makeshift camps in a coastal suburb in Kerala’s Thiruvananthapuram on Friday.
Cyclone Ockhi may have moved away from Kerala’s borders, but it intensified into a severe cyclonic storm on Friday and moved to the Arabian Sea.
A Defence spokesperson on Friday said 13 boats with 38 crew from Kerala and one boat from Tamil Nadu with four persons on-board were missing. A Navy aircraft rescued eight of them. “The fishermen were found floating in water by Advance Light Helicopter," the spokesperson said.
On the other hand, according to Thiruvananthapuram district collector K. Vasuki, 80 fishermen are missing, and rescue operations are on to locate and bring them back. More than 50 men have already been brought back, she added, and a control room has also been opened to coordinate the rescue operations in the local airport.
Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan held an emergency meeting on Friday morning. “Ten fishing boats have been exactly located and we are also able to communicate with 70 other boats. Some of them are hesitating to return to land as they cannot leave their boats behind," Vijayan said to reporters after the meeting.
The weather department said Kanyakumari, Tuticorin and Tirunelveli districts in Tamil Nadu received rains for the third day on Friday though the cyclone threat mitigated as the system, lying 70km south of Kanyakumari on Thursday, moved to the Arabian sea.
“Ockhi cyclone intensified into severe cyclone and lies at about 110 km northeast of Minicoy (island) and it is likely to cross Lakshadweep arch during the next 24 hours," the India Meteorological Department said in a bulletin this morning.
Gale winds speed reaching 110-120kmph gusting to 130kmph were very likely over and around Lakshadweep during next 24 hours.
Squally wind conditions would prevail along and off Kerala and Karnataka coast. It forecast rainfall at most places with heavy to very heavy at a few places and isolated extremely heavy falls (more than 20cm) over Lakshadweep area during next 24 hours.
Rainfall at many places with heavy rainfall at isolated places were very likely over Kerala during next 24 hours.
Ockhi is now 200 km away from our shores, from 70km on Thursday, but the rains will continue in this manner on Friday and Saturday, said Vijayan.
The Kerala government has sought the help of Navy and Airforce for the rescue operations, said Vijayan. “Two Airforce helicopters have been brought from Tamil Nadu’s Coimbatore district and the Navy has sent two of its Seaking helicopters Thursday itself. A four-column army is on standby," he said.
The state government has deployed its police and fire services to evacuate people and has shut schools and colleges across the state. It has advised people in the southern districts to remain indoors and suspended train services partially.
Search operations for several missing fishermen, who had put out to sea from the coast in Kerala and Tamil Nadu, resumed this morning with Navy deploying a Dornier and an Advanced light helicopter (ALH) with divers.
Five Kanyakumari district fishermen did not return to the shores after they went out to sea two days ago, police said. Navy, which had on Thursday sent a Seaking helicopter for the search operations, on Friday morning deployed a Dornier and an ALH with divers, Southern Naval Command spokesperson Commander Sreedhar Warrier told PTI.
Five ships had been sent to the southern Kerala coast on Thursday by the Navy after reports emerged that several fishermen who had put out to sea in choppy waters were yet to return. Besides, two ships with relief materials are on standby at Lakshadweep for humanitarian assistance.
A Kochi report said five Navy ships and four vessels from the Coast Guard have been deployed for search and rescue operations to locate missing fishermen. All the ships have been directed to be positioned along and off Kerala Coast and additional Dornier sorties will be undertaken today.
The families of the missing fishermen are not satisfied with the search operations and are upset that the authorities didn’t issue a warning in advance.
Normal life has been thrown out of gear in the coastal belt, with the rains uprooting trees and electric poles and damaging houses and roads since Thursday.
Hundreds of families in Thiruvananthapuram believe that the authorities could have forseen a cyclone on its way in the Bay of Bengal hours before its impact was felt on the shores of Kerala. They have now moved to block national highways, regional news channels reported.
Shashi Tharoor, opposition Congress’s Member of Parliament from Thiruvananthapuram, had expressed dissatisfaction with the rescue operations on Thursday night. “Some 450 Kerala fishermen on 80 boats missing at sea since last night. Spoke to @IndiaCoastGuard commandant who admits his vessels have so far been inadequate for search&rescue but 2 bigger vessels on their way. Trying to reach @indiannavy so far without success. @nsitharaman," he tweeted.
Tharoor on Friday updated that central ministers urgently responded to his tweet. “Before we lose more lives, we need to review arrangements for search and rescue around the southern tip of the peninsula. Indian Coast Guard capacity and deployment (is) very poor," he tweeted.
With rains continuing to hit normal life in south Tamil Nadu, a holiday was declared for schools and colleges in five districts, including Kanyakumari, which bore the brunt on Thursday. The Thamirabharani river in Tirunelveli district was in spate in view of copious rains.
Rains also hit several other parts of the state, including Chennai and its surroundings since Thursday night, following which holiday was declared for schools in Chennai, Kancheepuram and parts of Tiruvallu district as also some other districts.
PTI contributed to the story