Status of Gurdwaras Unknown in New Orleans & Biloxi (Edited)
|Downtown New Orleans, Flooded
New Orleans, Louisiana (KP) - "Beyond imaginable!" Those were the words used by US President George W. Bush on Friday after he visited some of the areas affected by Hurricane Katrina, which struck off the Gulf of Mexico and bulldozed its way through three states this past week. On the first weekend after the category 4 hurricane caused mass destruction and loss of life, the aftermath of the hurricane is still wreaking havoc on the minds and spirits of southwestern Americans.
Thousands of medical professionals, law enforcement officers, and volunteers are still struggling to cope with what is being called the worst humanitarian crisis in American history. Although the situation has improved since the pandamonium of two days earlier, still more than 100,000 Americans have been displaced and thousands more are missing or awaiting rescue in New Orleans.
Although official statements put the number of deceased at around 200 in Louisiana and near 150 in Mississippi, the overwhelming consensus among media outlets and rescue officials is that thousands have been killed, and continue to die, as the proper medical attention does not reach the most severely ill people.
The health and physical wellbeing of the displaced Americans may not be as concerning as the psychological effects, as many thousands of people will stay in shelters like the Agrodome for the coming weeks, or months. Thoughts of the disaster are emotionally draining and mentally exhausting for them , as many have lost relatives and are losing hope as they think about rebuilding their lives.
The North American chapter of United Sikhs, an international non-profit human welfare organization, has launched the Katrina Hurricane Relief project, under its GHANAIA (Giving Humanitarian Aid Necessities and Assistance Impartially to All) initiative, setting its base camp at Baton Rouge, 85 miles North of New Orleans. This is the second major relief project conducted under the GHANAIA initiative, after the Asian tsunami disaster of 2004.
|Gurudwara Sahib of New Orleans before the disaster
The GHANAIA relief team consists of Sumir Kaur, the president of the New Orleans Gurdwara Sahib, United Sikhs volunteer Talvinder Singh, from New Jersey, and eight other volunteers from Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas, New Jersey, New York and other states. United Sikhs made an urgent plea Saturday, for donations of food, clothing and financial assistance to provide for the victims of the hurricane, and produced a poster at www.unitedsikhs.org to promote the initiative.
In addition, the World Sikh Council - America Region, a representative and
elected body of 37 gurdwaras and Sikh organizations in the US, has
initiated a Katrina Aid Campaign, and issued a press release at
www.worldsikhcouncil.org, encouraging Sikh gurdwaras, organizations, and
individuals to make financial contributions to the campaign.
"We will provide the funds collected from the campaign to the American Red Cross's Hurricane 2005 Relief effort and other agencies providing direct relief to
those affected by this tragedy. The Regional Committee, the governing board
of the council, will make a decision on the disbursement of all the funds
collected," Dr. Tarunjit Singh, Secretary General of the Council, said in a
phone interview on Saturday. He added that the volunteer efforts of the
Sikh communities of Dallas, Houston, United Sikhs, and others in providing
relief to those in and around Baton Rouge are appreciated. The council
plans to publish the progress of its campaign at its website in the coming
The Sikh communities of Mississippi and Louisiana have also been affected by this tragedy, and some of them are now at the United Sikhs base camp in Baton Rouge.
United Sikhs Director in Atlanta, Kuldip Singh, said by phone interview that they have "requested the Governor (of Louisiana) to provide us with a chopper to go there" and remove the saroop of Guru Granth Sahib Ji from the New Orleans Gurdwara Sahib, which is completely submerged under water like the rest of the city.
Meanwhile the conditions are also unknown as to the Gurdwara Sahib in Biloxi, Mississippi, where the winds of hurricane Katrina tore down thousands of homes and buildings. The Gurdwara Sahib is also presumed to be in bad condition but volunteers have not been permitted to access the areas.
Kuldip Singh said United Sikhs is trying to arrange the helicopter as soon as possible, so that the saroops of Guru Granth Sahib Ji can be removed from both gurdwaras, but connecting with authorities to get assistance on the matter may be delayed until after the Labor Day weekend.
Throughout the past week, several advocacy groups have criticized American authorities for ignoring the dire situation and showing less regard for the wellbeing of the survivors, who are from mostly poor African American families. American rapper Kanye West accused the Bush administration of purposely ignoring the displaced populations, stating "George Bush doesn't care about black people." But many authorities discouraged such thoughts and insist that the ideas of discrimination and betrayal are a distraction from the more important rescue and relief efforts.
Various groups from across the USA and Canada are working to provide the services they excel in, to assist in any way possible. Several search and rescue teams worked together in Louisiana earlier this week, and groups like the Salvation Army and Red Cross have organized mass shelters with sleeping arrangements, food, and clothing. Government organizations like the National Guard and local law enforcement officers are trying to maintain law and order after dozens of incidents of looting, and gunshots plagued the city amongst an already massive disaster. Meanwhile, animal welfare organizations such as the ASPCA and American Humane Association have been busy arranging the rescue and shelter of thousands of animals stranded or injured as a result of the flooding and hurricane winds.
Currently, United Sikhs is serving langar to over 70 displaced residents of New Orleans at its base in Baton Rouge, where two teams are actively providing various forms of relief aid. "A third team will start tomorrow or the day after," Kuldip Singh said, while stating that anybody who can join the volunteers to prepare and serve hot meals or provide other assistance would be "very helpful."