The View From Chinatown


In a darkened neighborhood, lining up for water and remembering the city’s blackout.

By Wenxiong Zhang

Eric Liu wasn’t too worried about the approaching storm. After all, Hurricane Irene hadn’t really affected his life.

But then Hurricane Sandy arrived. When Liu went out for a look Monday evening,the flooding was chest high on Water Street, a block from the East River.

Chinatown, Hurricane, Sandy, Water, East River

Eric Liu was waiting for his turn to get water from the fountain machine.

“A lot of cars were flooded and some of them were even floating, colliding with each other like bumper cars,” said Liu, a resident of Manhattan’s Chinatown.

Liu went back to his room, where the loud sound of the blowing wind and shuddering window kept him wide awake. “It was like someone was pounding on your window and trying to break into your room,” Liu said.

Outside, the rising tides from the East River immersed nearby parking lots and flooded neighboring apartments. An explosion at a Con Edison power plant shut off all the lights in Chinatown, leaving Liu and the rest of the neighborhood in total darkness.

When the gale died down, the nightmare continued. Without electricity, Liu couldn’t cook or watch TV. There was no newspaper. Cell phone service died.

“It reminded me of the blackout in New York City years ago, when I was in total panic,” Liu said.

But the most annoying problem in the wake of the storm is the shortage of water. Because the pumps in his building are not working and Liu had stored little water beforehand, he has to ration it carefully to take care of his needs. “You have to choose — to drink or to flush,” Liu said.

To supplement the supply, Liu dons a pink raincoat, picks up a red plastic bucket and walks outside to the roadside drinking fountains on nearly Cherry Street. They still work, though there is a line for the water.

And all around, car owners are surveying the damage to their vehicles. One man, wrench in hand, struggled to get his car’s motor to turn over. When that failed, he said, “The repair would cost me so much. I would rather buy a new car.”

Chinatown, Hurricane, Sandy, Water, Power, Electricity, Power Failure

In Fengwei restaurant, few customers were dining in candle light.

Just one Chinese deli, Rongchang on Mott Street, was open on Wednesday, and it was crowded with people. Fengwei, one of the few restaurants open in powerless Chinatown, had candles lit to help the cooks in the kitchen and the customers in the dining room. Food was spoiling in the refrigerator, said the owner, but she wanted to stay open because, “One customer is better than none. I won’t be able to pay the rent if I shut down the restaurant for two days.”

It was a surprise to see Wei Jiang’s ginseng shop open. There were no customers for ginseng on Wednesday, though. Jiang had switched merchandise, selling flashlights and umbrellas.

“A lot of people would be selling them soon,” Jiang said.


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