“A loved one left behind while evacuating for Hurricane Katrina prompted a rescue mission from Sikh community members last week”, reported ‘The Advocate’ on 17 September 2005 from Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
On Thursday, 08 September 2005 the International renowned Sikh body THE UNITED SIKHS issued a press release with photos from New Orleans, Louisiana, USA, informing the world of the fantastic news of the recovery of Sri Guru Granth Sahib. This news will be music to the ears of Sikhs world wide. It was announced that the Sikhs Scriptures, the eternal Sikh Guru, Sri Guru Granth Sahib at the New Orleans Gurdwara had been recovered untouched by the flood waters or the violent winds.
“The Sikh Gurdwara on Morris Rd., East New Orleans, built about fifteen years ago, which was under 9-feet deep water, bore the brunt when the flood waters of Hurricane Katrina unleashed its fury on the city. The Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji could not be removed from the Gurdwara before mandatory evacuation orders were issued.” said the announcement.
It was reported that the Gurdwara Sahib was “completely damaged inside”. It was said the Sikh members requested assistance from both federal and state government agencies for the immediate recovery of the Holy Scriptures from the submerged Gurdwara. A letter was sent to President Bust on 4 September 2005 seeking assistance to airlift the Sri Guru Granth Sahib. Unfortunately, no immediate help was forthcoming from the Government agencies.
So on the 6 September 2005, UNITED SIKHS member, Ranbir Kaur, a US Army National Guard hired the services of SRT, a private helicopter special response and training company of California and launched a rescue operation. It had taken the Sikh members several days to obtain access clearance from the various government agencies to enter the flood area. “In a precarious environment, amidst curfew and random shootings the UNITED SIKHS rescue squad comprising Hardayal Singh and Bhai Nirmal Singh teamed up with air force rescue experts David Cruz and Tom Bausmas of SRT to remove the Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji in an operation that lasted over a period of 22 hours from 5pm on Tuesday (6 September 2005) until 3pm yesterday (7 September 2005)”, reported the announcement.
Although FEMA officials had told them the high waters made it impossible to reach the area, and that there was heavy damage to the Gurdwara building, the Group started the mission on Tuesday, 6 September 2005. “We had to do it. Our faith drove us on,” Hardayal Singh said. “It’s like the pope being stranded.” As the whole of the area was still under several feet of water, extreme caution had to be exercised. Zodiac Boats equipped with under water cameras and rescue equipment were used to reach the flooded Gurdwara building.
“Nobody stopped us,” Singh said. “We just feel God gave the way.”
Cruz had his Zodiac boat complete with a fish finder that allowed them to watch for underwater hazards.
“We had to go slowly. Hardayal was watching the screen and I had to be prepared to kill the throttle quickly,” Cruz said.
Unfamiliarity with the area and missing or twisted street markers also kept the pace slow, Singh said.
“The water was dark green and putrid smelling”, he said, adding they saw no bodies.
Arriving, the group took the boat into the darkened building and lashed it to the front door.
It was completely damaged inside”, said the report.
In what was said to “be a miracle”, the Guru Sahib was recovered intact and untouched by the flood waters. When the Rescue team reached the Gurdwara building, they found that the Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji’s sarup was on the Palki (palanquin) and that the Palki was floating on water when Hardayal Singh, a rescue team member, 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,” he said.
“This is miracle. When we walked in we could see it shining,” Singh said.
The water stood waist deep with the platform on which the Guru Sahib Saroop rested floating in the water, Cruz said.
Normally, the Saroop of Guru Sahib would have been on its bed, where it is placed for resting during the night rather than on the altar, but with Hurricane Katrina approaching the priest had told them to leave it out.
“Never in our history have we done that,” Chehl said.
The bed where it would have been was destroyed.
“The altar was the only place that was completely dry,” Singh said. “The rest was gone. The bed was shattered.”
The men, who had changed into diving suits earlier, slowly made their way across the room. They were concerned their feet would become entangled in the warped carpet under the 5 feet of ater, and wanted to rescue anything they could, Singh said.
Once they had secured the Guru Ji, they returned to Baton Rouge. Guru Ji was placed reverently as their priest led them in an Ardas, a prayer of thanksgiving.
Chehl planned to purchase flowers to place around Guru Ji in their honor.
“This is a miracle,” she said, fighting back tears.
The report continued: “UNITED SIKHS volunteers speaking to the local media. Hardayal Singh paid his respects and carried the Sikh Scriptures to the rescue boat. He also retrieved gutkas, pothis, khanda, kirpans and other religious material from the building. A joyful gathering of Sikhs paid their respects as the Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji was brought to the president of the Gurdwara, Sumir Kaur’s, home, which is also the UNITED SIKHS Katrina relief command center.
“I am overwhelmed and glad that Guru Granth Sahib ji has been recovered from the floods. I am honored to have been part of this rescue operation” said Ranbir Kaur of Bakersfield, CA.”
“We treat it as royalty,” said Sumir who is the president of the New Orleans Gurdwara. “We never take a human being as a guru. The Guru Granth Sahib has all the wisdom we can look for.” Had the Guru Granth Sahib been unusable, the local community would have cremated it as a final act of respect.