More than 500 fishermen stranded in the rough sea off Kerala and Lakshadweep coasts have been rescued even as cyclone 'Ockhi' today lay centered over the South East Arabian Sea and about 250 km near Amini Divi in the Lakshadweep Islands.
The death toll in rain-related incidents in Kerala rose to nine with the recovery of two more bodies, taking the overall death toll to 22.
The state government decided to urge the Centre to declare Cyclone Ockhi, which left a trail of destruction in the state, a national calamity.
Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan entrusted chief secretary K M Abraham with the task of preparing a memorandum in this regard, chief minister office (CMO) sources said.
Ensuring to help all affected fishermen in returning home safely, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said that the Indian Navy, Coast Guard and Air Force have deployed 20 ships and eight aircrafts along with five helicopters and also saved 261 fishermen as of today evening.
Meanwhile, the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) said that the Cyclone has intensified from ‘severe’ category to a ‘very severe’ cyclonic storm and the system is very likely to intensify further during next 24 hours.
Fresh spell of rain in Tamil Nadu
Meanwhile, a fresh spell of heavy rain is in store in some areas of Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Puducherry with a low pressure area forming over south Andaman sea, which is "very likely" to become a depression over the Bay of Bengal.
The system is likely to move towards Tamil Nadu and south Andhra Pradesh in the next three to four days, the India Meteorological Department (IMD) said.
With 'Ockhi' wreaking havoc in South Tamil Nadu, the Tamil Nadu government said it will soon seek central funds for the damage caused by the cyclone.
This was conveyed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi by Chief Minister K Palaniswami during a telephone conversation between the two leaders last night, a state government release said.
Palaniswami also discussed the situation with Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh. He told Singh that Kanyakumari and Tirunelveli had suffered the worst damage, and detailed the relief work being carried out in "full swing" there, a release said.
The state government requested the Centre to deploy helicopters of the Indian Navy and Coast Guard to search and rescue missing fishermen, mostly from Kanyakumari.
In Kanyakumari, power supply had been restored even as efforts are on to resume power supply in neighbouring areas like Nagercoil and Kuzhithurai.
Palaniswami has announced Rs 25 crore for expediting relief and restoration work in the district.
Kanyakumari, besides Tirunelveli, had borne the brunt of Ochki cyclone, which uprooted hundreds of trees and crippled normal life.
The Coast Guard rescued 198 fishermen and 18 fishing boats of Tamil Nadu off the Western coast.
According to an official release, 18 fishing boats and 198 fishermen from Tamil Nadu have taken shelter in the Lakshadweep and Minicoy Group of Islands (western coast).
In Kanyakumari, family members of missing fishermen staged a sit-in before state ministers R B Udhaya Kumar and P Thangamani for a while.
Vijayan said as many as 531 fishermen, stranded in the choppy waters off the Kerala and Lakshadweep coasts due to Cyclone Ockhi, have been rescued.
The Kerala government has announced a compensation of Rs 10 lakh to the next of kin of those who lost their lives in the cyclonic storm.
Twentynine relief camps have been set up to accommodate those marooned in coastal areas.
Strong winds touching 60-70 kmph today pounded the Union Territory of Lakshadweep where 1,047 people have been shifted to 31 relief camps.
"It is cloudy and strong winds touching 60-70 kmph is blowing with the worst-affected islands being Minicoy and Kalpeni," an official said.
Minicoy island received 14cm of rain in the last 24 hours ending at 0830 this morning, Met department sources said.
Coconut trees have been uprooted at various places and houses damaged in eastern Kalpeni and Minicoy, sources said, adding the extent of the damage was being assessed.
The breakwater jetty, embarkation and disembarkation point of ships have been damaged at Kalpeni from where at least 200 people have been shifted to safer places.
Vijayan said so far 393 people from Kerala have been rescued. Besides, 138 fishermen have been rescued from the Lakshadweep islands, he said.
Strong winds with speed touching 100-110 kmph and 45-55 kmph are likely to batter the Lakshadweep and Kerala coasts respectively during the next 24 hours under the influence of cyclonic storm 'Ockhi', a MeT bulletin said.
Squally wind with speed reaching 45-55 kmph, gusting to 65 kmph, is very likely along the Kerala coast during the next 24 hours.
Stepping up their efforts, the Indian Navy and the Coast Guard continued search for missing fishermen using ships, dornier aircraft and helicopters in the sea off Kerala and Lakshadweep.
While INS Nireekshak, INS Jamuna and INS Sagardhwani are continuing search and rescue operations in their designated areas along the coast off Vizhinjam in Thiruvananthapuram and Kollam, INS Shardul and INS Sharda are heading towards Lakshadweep.
INS Sagardhwani recovered one body, 30 km off the Thiruvananthapuram coast. The ship had earlier found another body, a defence spokesperson said.
Fifteen fishermen rescued by the Coast Guard are being brought to the Thiruvananthapuram coast, the official said.
Four fishermen were rescued by a Navy chopper this morning, 20 miles off Kochi.
A report from Thiruvanathapuram said families of fishermen, who are yet to return, expressed their anguish and protested by blocking roads at various places.
The women said they were waiting with prayers and tears for their beloved ones to return.
The state chief minister met some injured fishermen, who were rescued from the choppy waters, at the medical college hospital in Thiruvanathapuram and enquired about their well-being.
(With PTI inputs)