August 22, 2010 01:12:00 AM
By Nancy Pasternack/Appeal-Democrat
Ahmed Bath's extended family gathered outside the Yuba City Islamic Center after midday Ramadan prayer services Friday.
They huddled around a detailed folding map of Pakistan with a few other worshippers from the mosque, reviewing the path of destruction wrought by floods in their home country during the past three weeks.
"All of the sudden, there were so many deaths," said Bath, 35, shaking his head and pointing to a series of spots on the map along five flooded rivers in his native Punjab province.
"City after city after city after city is underwater," he said.
The people who make up both the Muslim and Sikh communities in Yuba City spend quite a bit of time these days watching Geo News, which broadcasts in Punjabi, or Dunya News, which broadcasts in Urdu.
As of Friday, floods in Pakistan — resulting illness and malnourishment — had claimed at least 1,500 lives.
Bath's family, like many other Pakistani-American families in Yuba City, hails from an area east of Multan.
On the other side of that city lies the wide swath of Punjab directly hit by the flow of water.
Roughly 500 Muslims live in Yuba-Sutter, most of them from Pakistan's Punjab province.
"Our families are safe, mostly," said one of the mosque's clerics, Imam Mohammad Amin Noman.
But everyone in the province, and in Sindh, the province to the south, he said, will likely be affected in coming weeks and months from economic devastation, a lack of accessibility to resources, threats of illness, and the movement of refugees from the floods.
Noman's own family is from Gujranwala, where relatives currently are on an island-like section of land created by five flooded rivers nearby.
The relatively dry city is beginning to see a large influx of countrymen from flooded areas.
"A lot of other people are coming already," Noman said.
"People here are trying to get money to send to Pakistan," said Abdul Bath, owner of a deli and market in Yuba City.
An announcement during Friday's busy afternoon worship service encouraged donations. Most of those get funneled through the Pakistani Consulate in Los Angeles, Abdul Bath explained.
Khalid Chechi, who attended the service Friday, said he has heard tragic first-person accounts about people trying to survive flooding from his friend who works as a policeman in Pakistani Punjab.
Sutter County residents who worship at the Sikh Temple just down the road also are on edge about what is going on in their native country and province, said Yuba City Mayor Kash Gill.
Heavy monsoon rains have ruined crops and some infrastructure across the border from Pakistan in India's Punjab province.
"There have been downpours there where it usually doesn't rain," said Gill. Dry riverbeds suddenly surprised villagers throughout that region by overflowing with rushing water.
"Here in this country," he said of his Sikh community's roughly 6,000 members, "your mind and heart are very much affected by this."
As a result of the inundation, friends and family members in Punjab, he said, "are going to be subject to a lot of diseases."
Punjabi Indian-Americans, he said, are following foreign language television channels closely for any information about the Golden Temple in Amritsar, the heart of Punjab. The temple is the holiest of Sikh shrines, and it appears so far to be safe.
"But we're waiting, and we'll find out the extent of the damage soon," said Gill.