KOCHI: They all came to Chengannur with a mission. Around 550 fishermen from Alappad panchayat in Kollam district descended on the flood-ravaged town in Alappuzha district with 149 boats they normally use to navigate the seas. It was their own way of offering a thanksgiving to the people for having stood with their community during the 2004 Tsunami.
The fishermen from Alappad, a strip of land sandwiched between the roaring sea and serene backwaters, have withstood the vagaries of nature, with tragedies only toughening their resolve. The tsunami waves tore apart their lives and claimed 149 of them in 2004. If that was not enough, Cyclone Ockhi, which hit Kerala coast on last November 29, added to their misery.
But the Alappad fishermen were the first to rush to Chengannur to save the thousands marooned by Pampa river’s rage. It followed a SoS call made by the Chengannur Mahadeva Temple Devaswom’s secretary to the Araya Samajam leaders in Alappad August 15. At 8 am, six country boats were sent to Chengannur in trucks, along with all equipment including lifebuoy, food, dress and essentials. Another team started at 1.30 pm on the same day. They have spent `7.5 lakh on their own for rescue operations.
While the Army and Navy concentrate on town areas, the fishermen are rescuing people stranded in remote areas. “When we informed about our decision to proceed to Chengannur for rescue operation, the Karunagappally tahsildar stopped us saying the government has issued strict orders banning entry of people from other areas.
We still proceeded. The Alappuzha district administration wasn’t supportive either. So we decided to conduct the rescue operation on our own. We distributed 10,000 food packets on Friday. This is an expression of our gratitude to the people, who stood firmly with us during the tsunami disaster,” said Alappad panchayat member R Baby, who coordinates the rescue mission. Around 400 fishermen from various harbours in Kollam have also joined the rescue work in Chengannur.
“Around 40 boats have been sent to Chengannur from Pallithottam, Mudakkara, Neendakara and other fishing harbours in Kollam district. The engine of the boat of fisherman Wilson was damaged after water in Pampa started receding. The small boats are rescuing flood victims who’re stranded in isolated places. They’re concentrating on Chengannur and Tiruvalla,” said Kerala Swatantra Matsya Thozhilali Federation’s coordinator A Andrews.
Meanwhile, fishermen from Vypin, Kalamukku, Chellanam and other parts of Ernakulam proceeded to Aluva. Around 800 fishermen, on 150 boats, are striving to save flood victims stranded in isolated islets. The team from Kochi has saved hundreds from Elookara, East Kadungalloor, Pizhala Kothad, Kadamakkudy, Varpuzha and other areas. “Our fishermen have taken small and big country boats that can carry upto 100 people.
The container trucks at Vallarpadam transported the boats to Aluva for free. Our helpline numbers have been marooned by calls from people stranded in houses. Our boats are going to remote areas and islets where no rescue workers can reach,” said Matsya Thozhilali Aikya Vedi state president Charles George. Many of their boats are damaged, but they do not seem to bother.