The death toll in the Ockhi cyclone in Kerala rose to 40 today with the recovery of two more bodies even as the search operations to trace the missing fishermen entered the 10th day. Meanwhile, as many as 67 fishermen, trapped in the high seas, returned to Kochi. These fishermen had put out to sea from Kerala and Tamil Nadu coast and many of them were trapped in Lakshadweep area. They arrived in Kochi by six boats last night and early this morning, officials said. Mourning the dead and 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 toll to 40 in the cyclone that hit the southern coast of the state on November 30. The cyclone had also left several fishermen stranded in 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 a AN-32 aircraft along with local fishermen also took part in the search and rescue operations. 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 6 am. 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 as 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 also 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.
As per the figures released by the Latin Church, more than 300 fishermen were still missing, while official estimate of the missing men 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 present 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.
A total of 5,656 fishermen had been rescued so far and 159 of them were under treatment in hospitals for serious injuries, it was stated. 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, Coast Guard and Indian Air Force to continue the search operations for the missing fishermen for another 10 days.