With 26 fishermen from here still missing, Christmas saw people giving thanks for those who returned safely and prayers to bring back the missing.

In Keralas coastal village Cyclone Ockhi robs the joy out of ChristmasPics: Sreekesh Raveendran Nair
news Ockhi Cyclone Tuesday, December 26, 2017 - 14:33

Christmas in Poonthura, near Thiruvananthapuram, is usually a grand affair. But this year, the little coastal village is shrouded in silence.

Twenty-six fishermen from here, who left to sea on November 27, are still missing after Cyclone Ockhi ravaged the Kerala coast.

Not a single star hangs outside any of the homes in Poonthura. The midnight Christmas mass at St Thomas Church was a sober affair – they gave thanks for the 58 men who returned to shore safely and prayed for the lives of those still missing.  

“Christmas is the happiest festival for us. Not a single person would sleep on Christmas Eve; everyone would sing and dance the whole night in celebration. In the morning, the women and children would bathe in the sea. This is the only time of the year they are allowed to do so. But this year, no one wanted to go anywhere close to the sea,” said Andrews, a resident of Poonthura.

The kin of the missing fishermen have not given up hope; they still believe their loved ones will come back home. “In some of the missing men’s houses, they have lit candles in front of their photos – almost admitting it to themselves that the chances of them coming home are diminishing. But many other families are still waiting,” he added.

On December 30, a mass will be held at St Thomas Church for the dead and the missing.

Fishermen from the coastal areas of Thiruvananthapuram usually venture out to sea in small and medium fishing boats.

T Peter, General Secretary of National Fish Workers Forum, said that the chance of those missing coming back now is almost nil. “It’s difficult for those who fish in small boats to survive in the sea for this long.”

Robert Pani Pillai, founder of the NGO Friends of Marine Life, echoed this opinion.

“The deadline, as per our calculation to rescue the missing, was the first week of December. They left to sea on November 27, by November 30, they should have been rescued. However, the rescue mission began only on November 30. In adverse conditions, it is easier for smaller boats to capsize and it is impossible for those on board to survive for more than 30 hours. In bigger boats, it is possible for people to survive for a few days,” he said.

Pic: Sreekesh Raveendran Nair

On Christmas day, about 50 people gathered at Sanghumugham Beach to light candles in the memory of the victims of the cyclone. Several passers-by joined in the prayers.

“No one from our family is missing; still, we did not celebrate Christmas in Valiathura. For us, these fishermen are like our brothers. We can’t celebrate when most families are in mourning,” said Anu, who had come to attend the event.

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