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Anguish in Ockhi-ravaged Kerala villages as families wait for missing fishermen

The day Ockhi came rumbling down, 30 boats with 90 fishermen had sailed to the sea from Poonthura, one of the several villages on the outskirts of Thiruvananthapuram.

india Updated: Dec 09, 2017 23:47 IST
Ramesh Babu
Ramesh Babu
Hindustan Times, Thiruvananthapuram
Kerala,Cyclone Ockhi,Fishermen
People check the photos of fishermen who have not returned after venturing into the sea at Poonthura coast in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala, on Saturday.(Vivek Nair/ Hindustan Times)

A mother of four children, Rani Mary has been squatting on the beach of her sea-front Poonthura village for the past 11 days, unmoved by the entreaties of her relatives to return home.

She has held her ground ever since her fisherman-husband went missing when Cyclone Ockhi, packing winds upto 155 km per hour, pummeled her state, triggering huge waves and dumping incessant rain. Her husband was somewhere in the high seas when the cyclone hit. There has been no news of him since.

“I have no one. Please help me to get him back,” wails Mary, her eyes swollen and red following days of crying. Hundreds of fishermen were brought back to safety by rescuers, but her husband, Kumar, is one among the 230 fishermen from Kerala who are still missing.

Officials say the whereabouts of 66 fishing boats that were in the sea when the cyclone struck are also not known.

Poonthura on the outskirts of Thiruvananthapuram is one of the several villages that are oscillating between hope and despair. Every dawn brings fresh expectations that their loved ones will be located and rescued. At dusk, despair takes over in the absence of any positive developments.

Signs of anguish and hopelessness lie scattered around the village.

Damaged boats and fishing nets are strewn on the beach while a huge board put up by the local church with images of those still missing stand in a corner in silent testimony to the village’s collective suffering.

The missing include 16-year-old Vineesh who had to take to fishing after his father was bed-ridden with a kidney ailment. The teenager was the sole bread earner for his family of five.

Grief binds the villagers together.

Some families have more than one member missing. Jamilt is still waiting for her son Chrisudoss and husband Silvasdasan to return.

But as days pass, many are betting on a miracle for their loved ones to return. Giving up on the missing is not in their minds yet.

The day Ockhi came rumbling down, 30 boats with 90 fishermen had sailed to the sea from Poonthura, the vicar of the St.Thomas church, Yougene Perera, said. Four died, 57 came back and 29 are yet to return.

The long wait for the missing is leading to anger and visiting politicians are at the receiving end. Chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan had to flee, leaving behind his official car, earlier this week after being chased by the villagers over official apathy and inaction.

“In our country, human lives are cheaper than the shoals of sardines we net from deep seas. Nobody gave us any warning. Now the state and central governments are playing a blame game,” lamented the father of a missing fisherman.

Though hoping against hope that the missing will return, some residents at least are grudgingly acknowledging that their chances of survival are getting slimmer by the day.

“In Poonthura, most of them had gone out in small vessels. It is difficult for them to survive so long,” said Yesudasan, one of the fishermen lucky to have survived the storm. He had seen four bodies floating by before he was plucked out of the sea by rescuers.

Surviving a storm in the high sea is difficult. Dilbert, recovering in the Thiruvananthapuram Medical College Hospital, had a harrowing tale to tell.

“When our boat collapsed, all eight occupants were thrown into the sea. I swam like a blind man for seven hours. I suffered many fish bites. In the morning I could see another boat floating around and held on it for more than 18 hours till help arrived,” he said.

First Published: Dec 09, 2017 23:22 IST