THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: The Kerala government today described Cyclone Ochki as an "unprecedented calamity", saying it caused widespread damage in the state and urged the Centre to declare it a national disaster and announce a special relief package.
Addressing a press conference here after a cabinet meeting that reviewed the post-Ockhi situation, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan also said as per official figures, 92 people from the state were still missing, following the cyclone, and that search operations were going on to locate them.
He said more than 2,600 fishermen, including 1,030 Keralites, had been rescued from the high seas and termed the search-and-rescue operations undertaken in the seas "unparalleled".
Vijayan acknowledged that his government received all the support from various defence units, including the Navy.
Cyclone Ochki hit the state's southern coast on November 30, claiming 29 lives, most of them of fishermen, injuring many and damaging properties.
"It was an unprecedented calamity, which claimed several lives and caused a widespread damage to properties. The Centre should declare Cyclone Ockhi a national disaster and announce a special package for the rehabilitation of the victims," the chief minister said.
Large scale agricultural loss and destruction of sea walls and houses in the coastal areas were reported from across the state, he added.
The state would also bring to the Centre's notice the urgent necessity for a more accurate system to forecast climate changes, Vijayan said.
Announcing a series of relief measures, he said an additional Rs 5 lakh would be given to each of the families of those who had lost their lives in the calamity.
Besides, fishermen families would get free ration for a month, daily relief amounts of Rs 60 (for elders) and Rs 45 (for children) would be given for seven days and those who had lost their boats, nets and other fishing equipment would be compensated, Vijayan said.
The state had earlier announced an assistance of Rs 10 lakh each to the families of the deceased fishermen, besides a Rs-5 lakh grant by the state Fisheries department.
With the additional solatium announced today, the total relief amount would go up to Rs 20 lakh, Vijayan said.
Besides, an amount of Rs 5 lakh would be given to those fishermen, who were severely injured in the cyclone and could not venture into the sea anymore, he said, adding that this was to help them find an alternative mode of livelihood.
Free education and skill training would be given to the children of the deceased fishermen and those missing after the cyclone, the chief minister said.
Rejecting the criticism that there was a delay in launching the rescue operations, he said five minutes after the cyclone alert on November 30, the state government had issued the necessary warning to all the centres.
The government had worked on a war-footing following the cyclone alert, Vijayan said, while noting the support extended by the defence units in the relief operations.
As many as 15 ships, seven helicopters and four aircraft were deployed for the search-and-rescue operations, which were still continuing, he said.
The chief minister thanked Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and her ministerial colleague, Alphons Kannanthanam, who visited the state after the cyclone, and the various defence forces for carrying out the rescue operations.
An expert medical team would be sent to Lakshadweep to help the cyclone-hit people there, he said.
To monitor the number of fishermen venturing into the sea from the state's shores, the government was planning to set up a registry, where they would have to enter their names before proceeding for fishing, Vijayan said.
Efforts would also be made to equip the fishing boats with global positioning system (GPS) devices for tracing their location at times of emergency, he added.
The Coastal Police force would be modernised and 200 members of the fishermen community would be recruited in it.
"While appointing new persons, a priority will be given to the kin of the fishermen who lost their lives in calamities," he said.
Vijayan also asked the media to "introspect" before criticising the government, even after it took "effective steps" to tackle the situation.