not wet yet
December 14, 2006 8:27am CST
WASHINGTON: An intrepid group of U.S-based Sikhs have defied odds and a chaotic situation in New Orleans to save the Sikh holy scriptures from a submerged gurdwara in the flooded city. The successful 22-hour operation involved zodiac boats equipped with underwater cameras hired from a California-based rescue services company, the group United Sikhs said in a statement. According to the group, the Gurdwara on Morris Road, East New Orleans, built about fifteen years ago, was under 9-feet deep water in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji could not be removed from the Gurdwara before mandatory evacuation orders were issued. United Sikhs requested federal and state government agencies for immediate removal of the scriptures from the submerged Gurdwara. A letter was sent to President Bush on September 4 seeking assistance to airlift the scriptures, but it found no response in a situation where the administration had other pressing concerns. United Sikhs then sought the help of Ranbir Kaur, a US Army National Guard from Bakersfield, California, to hire the rescue services of SRT, a private helicopter special response and training company in California, and launched the operation. It took three days to obtain clearance from different agencies before SRT could access the flood affected area, the group said. In a precarious environment, amidst curfew and random shootings, United Sikhs volunteers Hardayal Singh and Bhai Nirmal Singh teamed up with air force rescue experts David Cruz and Tom Bausmas of SRT to remove the scriptures in an operation that lasted from 5pm on Tuesday until 3pm Wednesday. The group said the Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji's swarupwas on the Palki (palanquin) and floating on water when the rescue team entered the building. "I was amazed, looking at the Guru Sahib's sukhasan on the palki, floating on five feet of water and untouched by the flood waters," said Hardayal Singh. The rescue team paid their respects before the scriptures were carried on their head to the rescue boat. They also retrieved gutkas, pothis, khanda, kirpans and other religious material from the building, the group said. United Sikhs has opened a langar (a community kitchen) to serve hot meals to over 1,300 evacuees in Donaldsonville, Louisiana, the group said.