Cyclone Ockhi: Storm Has Passed But This Hamlet at the Tip of India is Still Raging
The residents of Thoothoor are seething -- angry with the State and Central governments, angry with rescue teams and control rooms that don't respond immediately, angry with the media, angry with the rest of the world for delayed sympathies and displaced priorities.
Residents block a road during a protest demanding the government to reconstruct damaged sea walls and provide rehabilitation for those staying near the seashore after flooding caused by Cyclone Ockhi, in the coastal village of Chellanam, in Kerala on 3, 2017. (Photo: Reuters/Sivaram V)
The cyclone has passed, but the little hamlet of Thoothoor at the fag end of Tamil Nadu's Kanyakumari district is helpless and angry, yet to come to grips with its missing men.
For nearly a week, the Chief Minister of the State Edappadi Palanisamy did not come to see the effects that Cylcone Ockhi left in its wake, busy as he was with deciding the candidate for the RK Nagar by-election. It was only on December 12 that the CM came, to meet the families still looking for their bread-winners – fishermen who went out to sea but haven't returned until now.
The other powerful person of the district – Pon Radhakrishnan, the only MP of the BJP from Tamil Nadu and the only Union Minister from here – came to his native village but did not visit the ones affected, the fisherfolk say.
They are seething -- angry with the State and Central governments, angry with rescue teams and control rooms that don't respond immediately, angry with the media, angry with the rest of the world for delayed sympathies and displaced priorities.
The questions come fast and sharp:
"Why did the search and rescue operations go upto 250 nautical miles only, when they all know our men go up 600 nautical miles? They have to search where they have to, right?" asks Lissie Michael.
"We live at the southern tip of India, is this why nobody cares for us? The government was aware of the cyclone, but failed to inform us," says Jenny Fredy, another local.
"If this is a far away place for them, why does the government come here during elections? Why do they come for votes? Why come from Chennai to here?" Prajesh Albin wants to know.
The last few days have seen demonstrations, human chains formed by fishermen and their families; there have been rail-rokos against the government inaction, there have been
Some are losing patience. And hope. Over 400 are still at sea, and there is no word on whether they have been rescued in some camp or are presumed dead.
Fifty-something Stella is in tears when we meet her at her newly-build home, a family photograph by her side; anxiety builds up as she waits for word about her husband and twin 27-year-old sons.
"I can't find my husband. I see no way (for the future) now. How will I repay the loans, how will I educate my daughter? My two sons told their sister she can study as much as she wants. They are also gone. The father is also gone," she sobs. Others want to take things in their hands.
As Lissie says, "We will go.. we women will go, dive and find them. They cannot! This government cannot!"
"It has been 13 days. We asked him (the CM) to come, long back. Why did he not respond earlier? He has his election campaign. Neither did he come, nor did he allow us to go into the sea to take up rescue," says Shanko.
Official figures put the number of missing at 412 in Kanyakumari alone, though the fishermen community claim the number is almost double that.
But fishermen are known to stay at sea for more than a month sometimes, without contact with their families. So not all missing can be presumed dead. But then again, a few who have ventured out in the last few days have come back with tales of sighting floating bodies, swollen and disfigured beyond recognition. As John Libi, a fisherman recounts, "We saw dead bodies floating, but we could not bring them back. They were decayed."
So what does one believe, what does one not?
When news of the Chief Minister's visit came on Tuesday, the villagers of Chinnathurai gathered together with posters and banners to save their fishermen. Shop-keepers in the area downed shutters in support. The focus of their protests: they no longer believed in 'rescue operations' being effective
The CM's announcement of Rs 20 lakh in compensation and a government job for the next of kin of those dead, did little to console.
Because, though fishermen in Kerala were equally angry with their government for not reacting to the impact of the cyclone immediately, Kanyakumari's fishermen feel the Kerala counterparts are better off.
"Our government is doing nothing. We have suffered so much, we want to join Kerala now. At least, their government is helping. These are painful words from the bottom of my heart, but we want to join Kerala," says Reghuraj, a social worker.
Christmas is around the corner, the most colourful time of the year for almost every family along this coast. Shops along the streets display glittery stars and lights, waiting to be sold… but none of them will be lit at these homes where they wait for a word about their men at sea.
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