Sikh Temples Open Their Doors To Oroville Dam Evacuees

"We’re well prepared."

More than 180,000 people in Northern California were ordered to evacuate late on Sunday due to erosion of the emergency spillway in the nation’s tallest dam. Several Sikh temples in the area opened their doors to people in need of places to spend the night.

Earlier in the evening, California’s Department of Water Resources said the Oroville Dam’s emergency spillway, which prevents water from rushing over the top of the dam when levels are high, was in danger of failing and sending an “uncontrolled release of flood waters from Lake Oroville.”

A damaged spillway with eroded hillside is seen Saturday in an aerial photo taken over the Oroville Dam in California.
A damaged spillway with eroded hillside is seen Saturday in an aerial photo taken over the Oroville Dam in California.

Thousands of residents from counties including Yuba, Butte and Sutter were told to leave their homes immediately. Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg tweeted that individuals evacuating the Yuba County area could seek shelter in at least seven local Sikh houses of worship. Sacramento is about an hour and a half south of Oroville Dam.

“We’re well prepared,” Dr. Gurtej S. Cheema of Sacramento’s Capital Sikh Center told the Huffington Post. The gurdwara is one of the closest for residents leaving Yuba City. “We have meals, shelter. We can accommodate at least 50 people here.”

Cheema said that after evacuation orders were announced, members of the gurudwara delivered enough bedding for 50 people to spend the night at the temple. They also prepared hot tea and meals for evacuees to eat once they arrive. 

“We have three families over here right now, and we’re expecting at least 10 more [to spend the night],” Cheema added. Overall, he said the temple had received 30 calls from individuals saying they were on their way, fighting gridlocked traffic in the area.  

“We’re glad we can help and are available,” he added.

Yuba City’s first Sikh temple was built in 1969, though the community’s roots in the area date back to decades earlier. In November, Yuba City was home to the biggest Sikh event outside India, The Sacramento Bee reported. Tens of thousands of individuals gathered at the 37th annual Sikh Parade Festival to honor the teachings of Sikhism’s founder and celebrate the Sikh pioneers who came to Yuba City 110 years ago from Punjab, India.