Federal government offers US$50 million to help devastated Catholic fishing communities recover
Boats rest on the coast of Trivandrum district where fishermen have not resumed normal life after cyclone Ockhi hit southern Indian Nov. 29-Dec.5. An estimated 500 fishermen are still missing. (Photo Ajith Lawrence)
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has given personal assurances of more federal help for cyclone devastated communities, the majority of them Catholic, including through an ongoing search for survivors.
A 3.25 billion rupee (US$50million) national boost to rehabilitation efforts was announced.
Modi earlier this week visited villagers in southwestern coastal areas struck by Cyclone Ockhi Nov. 29 to Dec. 5.
Among communities he travelled to was the one on Lakshadweep Island, part of Kerala state, as well as coastal villagers in neighboring Tamil Nadu state.
Officials say that overall, 76 people have been confirmed as dead and more than 500 are still missing.
Critics maintain that thousands of fishermen were at sea because authorities failed to issue a cyclone warning in time.
Many grieving families told their personal stories to the visiting prime minister.
"We could see and talk to him so close," said 52-year Vincent Chiluva, whose 16-old son Vineesh Vincent is still missing.
"I could convey sorrow to him."
Vineesh’s surviving companion, who was on the same ill-fated fishing expedition, reported seeing him struggling in rough seas on Nov. 30.
Chiluva thought than even though Modi may not have fully understood his local Malayalam language, he was kind enough to patiently listen.
At Poonthura village of Kerala, in the hard-hit Trivandrum area, the prime minister spoke with people at a school accommodating some 150 dislocated families.
Modi said the government shared the community’s grief and loss.
"This is no time for a lecture," he said.
And he gave an assurance that federal efforts would continue, including using the military to search for survivors.
Some 330 people from Kerala were missing as of Dec. 19, officials said, and 73 residents of the state had perished in the cyclone.
In the neighboring Kanyakumari district of Tamil Nadu state, local administrators said three people had died and 254 were missing.
But church officials in Kottar diocese in Kanyakumari maintained that at least 109 people were dead and 124 missing.
Father Eugene Pereira, the vicar general of Kerala’s Trivandrum archdiocese, said normally even those who went deep-sea fishing came home before Christmas.
"So, we will wait till Dec. 23 and if they are not back by then, we can only pray for them and help their families."
A memorandum, signed by Father Andrews Kosmos of Thoothoor vicariate, sought reserved federal jobs, as well as education assistance, for the children of fishermen who died.
Archbishop Soosai Packiam of Trivandrum and Bishop Soosai Nazarene of Kottar also submitted memorandums to Modi regarding federal financial cyclone assistance.
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