Sikh Gurdwaras open doors to Oroville Dam evacuees

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Security guards, teachers, farmers and other members of the Central Valley’s large Sikh community poured into the two-story Gurdwara Sahib Sikh temple in West Sacramento late Sunday while fleeing potential flooding along the Highway 70 corridor south of Oroville.

They brought with them relatives and just the clothes on their backs after receiving phone alerts ordering them to evacuate immediately.

More than 200 evacuees received toiletries, bedding and tasty vegetarian meals served by the temple’s staff of 19, who worked through the night to house everybody, said temple manager Ranjeet Singh, who was clad in a blue turban and looked tired but happy.

“People were still arriving at 4:30 a.m. after being stuck in traffic for seven hours,” Singh said. “We have a big facility here. We can accommodate 300 to 400. If anybody needs help, we can provide it. Everybody’s welcome here.”

The sprawling mustard-and-white temple topped with ornate domes is the region’s oldest and biggest Sikh center, serving the largest community in the U.S. hailing from the Indian religious minority group. Temple staff usually prepare meals for up to 3,000 people every Sunday, said spokesman Darshan Singh Mundy.

The West Sacramento temple complex, at more than 50,000 square feet, is believed to be the largest evacuation shelter in Sacramento as nearly 200,000 people fled the zone beneath the Oroville Dam. The Sacramento Sikh Temple in Rio Linda reported taking in 50 to 60 families fleeing the flood zone.

“We have all races – black, white, Asian and Hispanic,” Singh Mundy said. “There is no tobacco or alcohol, and all our meals are vegetarian.”

While about half of those who took shelter eventually left to move in with relatives, others planned to stay until the evacuation order was lifted.

“I don’t want to go anywhere,” said Kiran Phagura of Live Oak, who arrived in a four-car caravan carrying 20 people – three generations including her husband, 4-year-old daughter Harnoor, five nieces and nephews, grandparents and more. “I was afraid there was going to be a flood, but here we don’t have to worry about anything. God bless the people here.”

Most of those who camped out at Gurdwara Sahib originally came from the northern Indian state of Punjab and brought their relatives to Yuba City, Marysville, Olivehurst and other farming communities north of Sacramento. The Yuba City-Marsyville area is home to more than 40,000 Sikhs, Mundy said, while the greater Sacramento region has roughly 70,000. Even as some Sikhs have been targets for harassment or worse, their faith calls upon them to feed the hungry, help those who need shelter and accept people regardless of religion.

The center also welcomed some outside of the community. Shortly before noon, a bedraggled Sam and Roxanna Lyon rolled into the temple parking lot in their station wagon carrying their four kids, ages 2 to 9.

“I thought we were going to get swept up in the flood,” said Trinity, their oldest.

It’s been a snafu,” said Sam Lyon, a 38-year-old security guard who fled Olivehurst with his family. “I didn’t even have time to grab my medicine, and I had no idea where to go. The alert didn’t tell us anything. We came down Highway 65 and made it to the Thunder Valley casino, where we tried to figure out what to do, but they told us we couldn’t stay.”

After sleeping in a truck stop, Lyon said he finally heard about the Sikh temple refuge on the news. The family arrived exhausted and starving, but the Sikhs fed them daal, rice, naan bread, rice pudding and tea, then took them to one of the apartments the temple owns outside the main hall. Sam Lyon said he and his family were happy to have discovered Sikh hospitality, especially after hearing that evacuees might not be able to return home for a month. He said he had just moved his family to California several months ago from Kentucky, where tornadoes, not floods, were the looming disasters.

On the Gurdwara’s second floor late Monday morning, 50 Sikhs were just waking up from a long, rough night while their kids played happily around them. Malkiat Singh Nagra, 73, and his wife Gurbax Kaur Nagra, 70, said they’d arrived in the region from India 10 years ago to be with their sons in Yuba City.

“We were very concerned,” said the husband, who’s an Indian army veteran. “We got to Woodland at 2:30 a.m. and couldn’t find any motel that had room. Now that we’re here, we’re very happy. They provide everything.”


The Bee’s Anita Chabria contributed to this story.

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