Ockhi cyclone: number of missing spirals to 600 in India

Catholic fishing communities in Kerala demand search operations continue as death toll lifted to 56.

The number of people in southern India listed as missing has increased to 600 a fortnight after cyclone Ockhi struck the coast, which includes many Catholic villages.

However, this figure is expected to fall significantly as many of them went out deep-sea fishing in large boats, rather than in vulnerable small coastal craft. The recovery of more bodies has lifted the death toll to 56 in Kerala state.

Church officials in Kerala’s Trivandrum Diosece list 232 people as missing, much higher than the government figure of 98 missing. Some 10,000 people, mostly Catholic fisherfolk, marched through the streets of Kerala’s state capital, Thiruvananthapuram (formerly Trivandrum), on Dec. 11.

They demanded that search operations be continued as well as provision of greater compensation and rehabilitation assistance. Neighboring Tamil Nadu state was also hit by Cyclone Ockhi between Nov. 30-Dec. 3. In Tamil Nadu, at least 462 people are officially listed as missing.

However, of the missing, 427 had gone in bigger boats for deep-sea fishing, while only 35 had headed out in 13 smaller boats. The number of missing was expected to fall as most of those involved in deep-sea fishing were expected to return. The state government was continuing search operations in collaboration with federal agencies as well as the Indian navy and air force.

Father Justin Jude, priest of the badly affected Poonthura St. Thomas parish, said families of the dead were being cared for by local communities. Voluntary agencies and clubs such as Rotary were also providing food and temporary financial help to victims’ families, Father Jude said.

Church agencies such as Caritas India and Save-a-Family are coordinating distribution of relief supplies. Some locals said the emphasis should be on ‘livelihood’ programs so people could start rebuilding their lives, including through the provision of boats and fishing equipment.

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