NYC Chinatown in the Wake of Hurricane Sandy: Still Lacking in Food, Power and Electricity


This photo by Ken Chen shows CAAAV volunteers distributing food and supplies to Chinatown residents still without food, power, or water after Hurricane Sandy.

Ken Chen of Open City Mag has a great piece out about the state of NYC’s normally bustling Chinatown a week after the devastation of Hurricane Sandy. Chen reports on the work by CAAAV, an established Chinatown community group, which has been on the frontline of Sandy relief efforts in Chinatown:

Hurricane Sandy has given Chinatown a Xanax. The first thing we noticed after coming over the Manhattan Bridge is how bucolic everything seemed. Driving down East Broadway, we found neither the Mad Max-style post-apocalyptic ghost town we’d expected, nor the vibrant, tumultuous, caffeinated pre-Sandy Chinatown of grandmas hawking faux-Louis Vuitton handbags and restaurant deliverymen revving up their electric motorbikes. This was the Thursday after Sandy hit on Monday night. People calmly strolled down the street. It was one of those whatever New York days in fall, when it’s sunny and chilly at the same time. Life was going on, a wobbly new equilibrium. We turned the corner and one of us yelped out, drolly, “Commerce is occurring!” A storeowner, we noticed, had attracted a small crowd of shoppers. We drove closer and saw that it was—that most traditional hoarder of nonperishable goods—a dry foods vendor, selling dehydrated squid, scallops, and mushrooms. We started to feel bad for not bringing more cash.

What we did bring was several gallons of bottled water. We unloaded them at a Hurricane Sandy relief event held by CAAAV, a longtime Chinatown community organizing group, outside their low-ceilinged headquarters at 46 Hester Street, which was currently lit only by a portable light hanging on a hook. This was CAAAV’s second day distributing water, fliers, food, and electricity to Chinatown residents.


Esther [Wang, director of CAAAV’s Chinatown Tenants Project] said, “These are small businesses and low-income immigrants living from paycheck-to-paycheck. Not being able to open your business for a week is devastating. They might not be able to pay their rent. Their landlord might evict them.” Esther was worried this kind of a systematic breakdown in the local Chinatown economy could lead to a fundamental change in the make-up of the neighborhood—just like after 9/11, when many Chinatown residents moved away after being put out of business for just one week.

In the two weeks after September 11, 2001, the neighborhood was cordoned off, with a major thoroughfare blockaded at Park Row in southern Chinatown—a blockade that remains today. As a result, almost three-fourths of Chinatown workers (24,500 out of 33,658) lost their jobs, according to an Asian American Federation Report, with the garment factories losing the entirety of their business volume. Sandy had left behind a weeklong blackout, Esther was telling me, but its economic effects could reshape the neighborhood for a generation. She didn’t want the post-Sandy relief monies to go to the same places they did after 9/11: towards development projects, like luxury hotels.

Read Ken’s full article here: Post Sandy, Day 4: Hester Street in Lower Manhattan

Here’s a video interview of Helena Wong, Executive Director of CAAAV, talking about the organization’s relief efforts.

For more information on CAAAV and their relief work, check out their website here or donate to CAAAV.

Asians Behaving Badly: Shashank Tripathi spread false updates during Hurricane Sandy

This past week, the East Coast was slammed by Hurricane Sandy, a category 1 hurricane that caused widespread flooding and power outages throughout some of the country’s most populous areas and left more than sixty people dead. During the hurricane, one anonymous Twitter account, @ComfortablySmug, was caught red-handed engaged in unspeakably irresponsible behaviour.

This Twitter user was, for reasons known only to himself, spreading false and alarming reports about the damage caused by Hurricane Sandy — everything from reporting that all power was going to be shut down throughout the entire island of Manhattan to Governor Cuomo being trapped in a flooded building to flooding of the New York Stock Exchange — to his over 6000 Twitter followers. (This Tumblr contains screen caps of many of ComfortablySmug’s alarming and false reports.)

This was a made-up report. The NYSE building did not flood during Hurricane Sandy.

The report of the NYSE building flooded was picked up by CNN and re-tweeted (apparently with no additional fact-checking done) for several hours, before it was later recanted by both CNN and refuted by the official NYSE Twitter account. But damage had already been done: this and the rest of ComfortablySmug’s false reports spread rapidly throughout Twitter — some being re-tweeted over 600 times  by users believing the reports to be fact — and causing unknown panic and confusion during an already hysterical time.

In the wake of this bizarrely trollish behaviour, Buzzfeed’s Jack Stuef outted ComfortablySmug as Shashank Tripathi, a hedge fund analyst and Republican political consultant working as campaign manager for Republican Christopher Wight’s congressional bid for the 12th district this year. Tripathi may also have served as a volunteer coordinator for the Romney campaign.

Shashank Tripathi is pictured on the left with Congressional candidate Christopher Wight another hedge fund analyst. Tripathi served as Wight’s campaign manager until today, when he was summarily fired for his irresponsible tweets during Hurricane Sandy. I’m not responsible for the editorializing in this picture, but I agree with the sentiment.

Tripathi, who appears to be of Asian Indian descent, offered the following apology on his Twitter account today along with news of his “resignation” from the Wight campaign (which was quick to condemn and repudiate its former campaign manager):

Yeah, we all believe that he voluntarily resigned. Before he could be fired.

Tripathi offered no explanation for his bizarre behaviour over the last 48 hours, but in truth there was probably no explanation that could be satisfying. Anonymity, assholery, attention-whoring, narcissicm — it may be all of these things and none of these things. In the end, there can be no rational explanation for leveraging one’s Twitter fame to spread false reports that only serve to cause confusion and panic during a natural disaster.

All I know is that Shashank Tripathi, you win today’s award for the worst person in the world. You’re a disgrace to the race.