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Church to take legal action over Indian cyclone tragedy

Independent death toll of Christian fishing communities in the south put at 218, as government dawdles and delays

Church to take legal action over Indian cyclone tragedy

Indian officials carry a stranded fisherman, rescued by navy and air force helicopters from the Ockhi cyclone, at Thiruvananthapuram airport on Dec. 1. (Photo AFP)

Published: December 18, 2017 11:22 AM GMT

Updated: December 19, 2017 02:34 AM GMT

With more than 218 people dead and 600 missing after cyclone Ockhi ravaged Catholic fishing communities in southern India, Church officials are contemplating legal action to press the state to search for missing people.

Church officials in the hard-hit Thiruvananthapuram and Kottar areas say together they have buried 178 bodies after the cyclone hit the southern tip of India Nov. 30-Dec.2 trapping fishermen at the sea.

They say the government failed to warn them on time.

Some 300 are missing from both areas and 40 "unrecognizable bodies" recovered from the sea are being kept in mortuaries awaiting forensic tests before families can claim them.

Vicar General of the hard-hit Trivandrum archdiocese Father Eugene Pereira told ucanews.com that the Church would file a "Habeas Corpus Petition" to force the government to produce the bodies of missing people. Fr. Pereira said the government had ignored Church data and failed to act in time to find the missing people, even 20 days after the disaster.

"We have no option but to seek legal recourse," he said adding they will file the petition in the state High Court to try and force the government to produce the bodies of the missing people.

In Kanyakumari alone in neighbouring Tamil Nadu state, at least 300 are missing and 108 fishermen have been buried in the past 18 days, Father Andrews Cosmos of St. Jude Parish Church in Kanyakumari said.

The federal Home Ministry Dec. 14 updated its data admitting that "more than 600 fishermen from Tamil Nadu and Kerala continued to remain missing" and that "search operations are still continuing off-shore."

The Kerala government also updated its figures Dec. 16 saying 300 are missing in the state, 255 of whom were from the district of Thiruvananthapuram (formerly Trivandrum) and 45 from Kollam and Ernakulam districts.

State authorities until last week maintained that less than 100 people were missing. But the Church data with names addresses and photographs of the people has forced the government to correct itself, Fr. Pereira said.

"Now our data and that of the state are coming closer," the priest said.

State chief minister Pinaray Vijayan told media that the state government had asked for federal help of 18.43 billion rupee (US$283 million) to assist fishermen who suffered losses.

State Fisheries Minister J. Mercykutty Amma said the search for the missing continues. "Everything humanly possible for recovering bodies is being done. Six small planes, seven helicopters and 24 ships are operating around the clock, to rescue and discover the missing fishermen," she told ucanews.com.

Bodies kept in the mortuaries are being identified through DNA test to help to hand them over to relatives at the earliest, she said.

Fr. Pereira said Archbishop Soosa Packiam of Trivandrum and Bishop Soosai Nazarene of Kottar are in touch with victims’ families and are taking the lead in negotiating with the government the terms of compensation and financial help.


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