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As many as 218 fishermen from Kerala, stranded in the sea off the coast due to inclement weather conditions triggered by cyclone Ockhi, were brought safely to the shore today even as the death toll rose to seven in the state.
Cyclone Ockhi, which in Bengali means 'eye', on Friday intensified into a severe cyclonic storm and moved to the Arabian Sea. It lay centered about 80km north-northeast of Minicoy in Lakshadweep.
Under its influence, heavy rains continued to lash coastal areas of the state, crippling normal life.
Yesterday, four persons had lost their lives in rain-related incidents while three persons died today, official sources said.
Orders have been issued to evacuate people from low lying areas of various islands including Kalpeni, Minicoy, Kavratti, Agatti, Androth, Kadamath and Amini in the Union Territory of Lakshadweep, they said.
Quoting the Indian National Centre for Ocean Information Services, Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan's office here said there is a possibility of "huge waves" occurring 10 km off the state's coast till tomorrow evening.
Rain and strong winds are likely to continue in different places in the next 24 hours.
According to the CMO, 218 fishermen, stranded in mid-sea off the state coast since yesterday, were brought safely to the shore through active coordination of various agencies including Navy, Airforce and Coast Guard.
Thirtyeight fishing boats, stranded in the mid sea, were spotted by the Navy and they were provided food and rescue kits.
Efforts to locate the other boats in the sea were going on, the CMO said adding that the government medical college and general hospital here have been kept ready to provide necessary treatment to fishermen brought to the shore.
Earlier talking to reporters after a meeting to review the situation, Vijayan said government is yet to know the exact number of persons who had ventured into the sea.
But the effort was to rescue all those stranded in the sea, he asserted.
A total of 56 houses were completely damaged and 799 houses suffered partial damage across the state, they said.
A Japanese cargo vessel chipped in to assist in the rescue operations by saving the lives of 60 fishermen from mid-sea. They have been brought to the Vizhinjam coast near here, official sources said.
The Indian Navy is putting in "maximum effort" to rescue fishermen from the sea which is very rough under the influence of Cyclone Ockhi, Vice Admiral A R Karve, Flag Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Southern Naval Command, told reporters on board the INS Tir at the Naval Base in Kochi.
The chief minister said the state has asked the defence ministry to deploy more aircraft for rescue operations in view of the cyclonc storm moving towards Lakshadweep.
Top navy officials said they have deployed two ships to the Lakshadweep Islands for carrying out rescue and rehabilitation operations in the island which is under threat of the cyclone.
In Lakshadweep, orders have been issued to evacuate people from low lying areas at Kalpeni, Minicoy, Kavratti, Agatti, Androth, Kadamath and Amini islands, official sources said.
People are being shifted to schools, they said.
Five boats anchored at a jetty in Kalpeni were damaged in heavy rains and strong winds.
Anxious relatives of missing fishermen, including women, today blocked traffic and raised slogans at Kollam and Thiruvanathapuram, protesting the delay in rescuing the missing fishermen.
Cong, BJP slam LDF government
Opposition Congress and BJP in Kerala slammed the LDF government over the alleged delay in initiating precautionary measures and launching rescue operations for fishermen, who got stranded in the rough sea off the coast.
BJP state president Kummanam Rajasekharan said union ministers Rajnath Singh and Nirmala Sitharaman have assured him all necessary support from the Centre for rescue operations.
The MP said he held telephonic talks with Home Minister Rajnath Singh who assured him that a team of officials from the ministry will be sent to assess the damage.
He said he has also discussed the matter with officials in the Prime Minister's Office.
Precautionary measures have been taken at Kavarati and Agatti islands where the cyclone is expected to hit tonight.
As per the latest Met bulletin, the system is very likely to intensify further during the next 24 hours.
"..It is very likely to continue to move west-northwestwards across Lakshadweep islands during the next 24 hours and then move north, northeastwards during the subsequent 48 hours," it added.