Ockhi Cyclone / Report : Man’s Grit
In the face of nature’s fury, many people held their nerves and did not buckle
S N Aiyer
Vizhinjam is a little known, small but exceedingly busy and beautiful fishing hamlet on the coastal belt of Kerala. Of its 20,000-odd residents, most are jolly, happy-go-lucky. Its fishing harbor hums with life and people flock the port as it is located close to the capital Thiruvananthapuram in Kerala. The world famous Kovalam beach is very near too, known for its Ayurvedic clinics/spas and much-acclaimed beach resorts. Tourists from far and wide marvel at the beauty and the god-gifted grandeur of the area and the marvelous scenic wonder that the sea presents. Children play in the sand here with gay abandon, laughing and frolicking, unmindful of the time passing by just as the waves full of froth and bubbles lash the shores ceaselessly. Womenfolk gossip and giggle in their girly groups, attired in the finery of the local fishermen community. Elderly couples lounge lazily in the sun trying to keep pace with the blaring film music and TV channels blaring endlessly in the air. The men, of course, are out to get the day’s catch, a lifeline for all the rest to enjoy, with fun and have a gala time. If and when they return.
Speaking on the flaws in the disaster preparedness and coordination, J Selvaraj , a Kanyakumari local said : “The Church has betrayed us. Before this millennium, hamlets in the southern districts were administered by local committees. After the year 2000, Anbiyangals (a sort of club) came into existence. They were managed by the Catholicon churches. In the initial years, it was a bridge to connect people with churches. They can’t take political
This time though, the men did not return. Misfortune hit the entire dream-like world of the fishermen hard. It devastatingly changed in the last 10-15 days, ever since Cyclone Ockhi struck. The air is now eerily silent, with death of some and the even more shattering lack-of-news of the missing ever so many more. Grief is writ large on the faces of the women and their families, children tugging at their torn clothes, standing close by, their faces taut with fear and fright. The elders are furious, anger and sorrow mixed, as they vent their fury on the officials, for alleged delay in alerting the community about Ockhi, which they say is the reason their sons are dead or missing. A tragedy has struck and the beauty in the sands and joy in the hearts have given way to misery and death all around. What makes it worse is that even now, days after the tragedy struck, an unknown number of fish workers are missing. As a result, out of frustration and anxiety, the fishermen finally decided to launch their own rescue operations and as many as 55 boats ventured into the sea to search for the missing fishermen
Realising the power of prayer, despite having lost whatever they have many have turned to the Almighty in the hour of crisis and to ensure the safe return of the near and dear. One of the local Malayalam mediapersons reported that in Mary’s Higher Secondary School in Vizhinjam, hundreds of students “offered special prayers” for the fathers of 27 children studying in the school who have gone missing after the cyclone hit on November 30.
Vizhinjam is not the only place badly hit. Adimalathura, Poovar and Poonthura which lie on the coastline adjoining it too have been affected. In Kanya Kumari, Tirunelveli and Thoothukudi districts of neighbouring State Tamil Nadu, which faced much of Ockhi’s initial fury, the missing are still being counted.
There is a heroic story to doing the rounds of a young boy, barely 21 years old from a remote and a downtrodden village Seruthur. He along with his other friends went out as usual chugging their diesel-driven mechanised crafts hoping to get a good catch off neighbouring Kerala. It was Sunday November 26, the sky was clear and there was no news of Ockhi, but fate willed otherwise for young Sabinan. His team returned but not Sabinan, who died unfortunately after his boat on November 30 drowned being trapped in the rough sea near Lakshadweep due to Cyclone Ochki. His body was washed out on the shores there with huge cries from the wailing women members of his family. Sadly, elders rued that “the deadly wind and rough sea” have claimed a brave son who ensured that even as Cyclne Ockhi drowned their boats, as the group including Sabinan struggled for their lives, he saved the nine others who managed to reach Lakshadweep shores but Sabinan got drowned himself.
Apart from Kerala & Tamil Nadu, it was the tiny islands of Lakshadweep which really this time around bore the brunt, though Gujarat and Maharashtra have faced the landfall of Ockhi. Here, of course, the locals have been lucky with the BJP governments in Gujarat and Maharashtra, thanks to the quick response action and the swift administrative machinery, rushing in.
(The writer is a freelancer)