Thiruvananthapuram, Dec 1 Two fishermen died while 214 others were safely evacuated in rescue operations jointly launched by the Indian Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard in the seas off here on Friday as heavy rains lashed the area under the influence of Cyclone Ockhi.
State Fisheries Minister J. Mercykutty said that 53 of the rescued fishermen was airlifted from the sea.
The dead have been identified as Christy, 51, who, according to the official spokesperson at the state owned Medical College hospital, was brought dead and the second was identified as Xavier, 57.
A third person whose identity is yet to be ascertained conditions is reported to be serious.
While 37 rescued fishermen are being treated at the Medical College hospital, another 34 are under medical observation at the General hospital here.
Cyclonic storm Ockhi had hit the southern districts of Kerala and Tamil Nadu on Thursday, and caused widespread destruction in the southern districts of Thiruvananthapuram and Kollam.
The rescue operations that began on Friday morning comprised 11 ships of the Navy, Coast Guard and Coastal Police, six helicopters and two Dornier aircraft.
The Kerala government has opened a control centre at the technical area of the airport used by the Indian Airforce and Thiruvananthapuram District Collector S. Vasuki said as per information there, another 30 more fishermen are there on the high seas and every efforts are going on to rescue them also.
In a related development she said a Japanese merchant ship has rescued 60 fishermen and are being brought to the shore.
Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, who held a high-level meeting in the morning, said there was no reason to panic as matters were under control with efforts of the Navy and Coast Guard. He also said they would ask the Defence Ministry for more naval aircraft to help rescue stranded fishermen.
Addressing reporters here, Vijayan said the Director General of Shipping has also asked passing merchant ships to extend all help to fishermen caught in the sea. Two such ships rescued 10 fishermen. "The biggest problem the rescue team is facing is that fishermen in the deep sea are not willing to let go their boats, which is creating a problem," he said.
Quoting meteorological reports, he said that it was a major relief that the cyclonic winds that were 70 km from the Kerala coastline on Thursday, are now around 200 km away.
On Friday evening, the Chief Minister's Office informed that reports from the meteorological office predicted that rains will continue in Kerala for a day or two more and winds would also be there.
Meanwhile, angry groups of fishermen in the coastal villages in Poovar, Vizhinjam and Kovalam have threatened to block the highways if the rescue operations are not intensified. However, the protest died down later after they were told about the government's efforts.
They were also angry that despite weather reports predicted a cyclone, no effort was made to convey this information to the fisherfolk. "We certainly would not have ventured out on Thursday had we been given an advance notice, which normally is done," said a fisherman who was rescued and was under medical observation at the General hospital here.
Leader of Oppostion Ramesh Chennithala blamed the Kerala government for ignoring the advance warnings that was given by various agencies about this cyclonic storm. The Congress leader later said that that the Union Home Minister and two national weather agencies had informed the Kerala government on the evening of November 29 about the impending cyclone.
"What more does the state government require to take adequate precautionary measures?" he asked, adding it failed miserably to even direct the fishermen not to venture out into the sea.
Muthappan, a rescued fisherman, told the media that he and four others were on the high seas on Thursday and things started turning dangerous around 2 p.m.
"We were thrown out of the boat and while four of us held on to the boat that had overturned, another person was holding on to a kerosene barrel.
"It was only after three hours that we were rescued by another boat," said Muthappan, who was admitted to the General hospital here.
Vincent, another rescued fisherman, said they had left the seashore here around 10 a.m. on Thursday. "We had travelled around 10 nautical miles into the sea, when things started going bad.
"It was a nightmare as massive waves were smashing all around and the boat that we were on, after holding on for an hour, lost balance and overturned.
"While five of us after an hour were rescued, we have no idea of what happened to the two others who were with us," said Vincent, who was spotted at the Vizhinjam beach, here.