The nation had given them up for dead - until a flotilla of trawlers sailed toward India’s southern coast carrying many of the 1,300 fishermen reported missing in last week’s devastating cyclone.
Five days after the storm ravaged the coastline and flooded hundreds of villages, 162 boats returned on Monday, officials said Tuesday.
Relief workers were trying to confirm the number of people aboard, said M. Tukkaram, a relief official in Hyderabad, the capital of Andhra Pradesh state. Still, it looks likely that the storm’s death toll will stand at 1,000, instead of twice that.
Officials had feared the trawlers capsized in the rough seas of the Bay of Bengal during last Wednesday’s cyclone. Many had set sail before the storm.
At least 1,000 people were believed to have been killed. Officials so far have identified 708 bodies, and State Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu said police have cremated another 105 bodies.
On Tuesday, coast guard vessels picked up 30 bodies of fishermen in the sea; 75 fishermen’s bodies were recovered earlier.
Villagers in the affected districts of East- and West Godavari, about 370 miles east of Hyderabad, said bodies still were lying unclaimed on the many islands in an estuary in the Bay of Bengal.
Naidu said 15 search teams have fanned out across the coast to look for missing people. He quoted local residents as saying that 600 fishermen are missing in Itimogga village, about 370 miles east of Hyderabad. It was not clear if some of the missing were among those who returned.
Helicopter pilots continued dropping food, water and medicine to isolated villages not yet visited by relief officials.
Deaths from natural disasters are rarely accurately documented in most of rural India, where 85 percent of the nation’s 960 million people live. But judging by accounts in Masalidippa, the devastation was huge.
“Every second family here has either someone dead or missing and presumed dead,” said Narayana Murty, a fishermen in this community of 200 families. His wife and three sons were killed in the cyclone.