Kanyakumari's Chinnathurai villagers are in panic and desperation. Locals say around 80 fishermen from this village alone are missing. In Kanyakumari, 398 fishermen are missing according to the district administration, since cyclone Ockhi passed through its coast.
52-year-old Elbari's husband left for fishing on November 28, less than twelve hours before the first alert was given out by the district officials, warning fishermen against entering the sea. With no sign of his return in the last sixteen days, their son has set sail in search of his father. Sitting next to Elbari is her neighbour Liby John. Six members of her family including her brothers, all fishermen, are missing. "If they had told us two days before of a cyclone , these men would not have gone. Now, there's not one family here which is not grieving here," Liby said.
According to documents accessed, Tamil Nadu received the first alert from Indian Meterological Department on November 29 at 11:50 am. The warning mentioned deep depression, heavy rain and strong wind, but there was no mention of the word cyclone. The warning was communicated to local fishermen by afternoon. By the next day, the cyclone had hit the coast.
"We keep hearing warning about heavy rain and wind. We know how to deal with it. But a warning which is being generated hours before a cyclone is formed, should definitely be different", said T Reghuraj, a young fisherman from the village.
Fishermen like 60-year-old Lawrence, who kept afloat in the deep sea for nearly 24 hours along with fellow fishermen, before being rescued by locals, are few. He recalled how their boat toppled thrice.
"The third time it was a very strong wind and rough waves. We were ten of us. Two of us were washed away. We kept afloat for ours. We had no strength left. We couldn't see anything. We had given up all hope of surviving. Almost twenty hours later, some local fishermen spotted us and rescued us. We blacked out soon after that. I have no idea what has happened to the eight others with me", he said.
The district administration in Kanyakumari is certain that fishermen with large vessels will return after a long haul, as they go off for two to three weeks. But women like Rema haven't been able to stop crying. Her son left for fishing around November 17. "He should've been back around the same time the cyclone struck. Now we don't know where he is. Is he alive? Will we get him back?" an inconsolable Rema F asks. By her side is her daughter-in-law, married just five months ago, now staring at an uncertain future.
In 2017, despite the cyclone not making any landfall in southern India, the missing fishermen reflect a bitter reality.