Queens Courier Year in Review: The top stories from December 2019

Hello Panda Festival

December’s top stories include a special lantern festival arriving in the borough, a Queens native who is starring in a Comedy Central show, a massive sewage spill in southern Queens, and a rally for safer working conditions at Amazon warehouses.

Hello Panda Festival waves to Citi Field

The city’s inaugural Hello Panda Festival touched down in the “World’s Borough” in December, sticking around throughout January of next year. More than 120 massively illuminated and handcrafted lanterns were on display, and guests are enjoying great food provided by 30 magnificent vendors at the festival organized by CPAA North America and The World’s Fare.

The displays feature more than 300,000 brightly colored LED lights and several interactive elements. Visitors can explore six different lantern theme parks, each of which deliver distinct, immersive experiences. The never-before-seen exhibits will be spread throughout the festival grounds: Dream World, Holiday Wonderland, Discovery Zone, Interactive Music Zoe, Sports World and Community Interactive Zone.

Display highlights include the world’s tallest Christmas tree lantern, life-sized dinosaurs and safari animals, a huge fairytale castle and a 98-foot-long light tunnel. The Hello Panda Festival is open seven days a week from 5 to 10 p.m.


‘Awkwafina is Nora From Queens’ to premiere in 2020

Before she became a Hollywood movie star, Nora Lum, known by her stage name Awkwafina, was a YouTube rapper in 2013 living in Forest Hills. Now, she’s returning to her roots for a new Comedy Central show based on her life in Queens. 

“Awkwafina is Nora From Queens” is a half-hour scripted narrative starring Lum — who is the writer and creator of the highly anticipated series — as a 20-something growing up in Forest Hills, striving for a larger-than-life existence while living with her dad played by “Law & Order: SVU” icon BD Wong, and her foul-mouthed grandmother, played by Lori Tan Chinn of “Orange is the New Black,” and cousin played by “Saturday Night Live” cast member Bowen Yang.

Prior to landing her own show, Lum has starred in the films “Ocean’s 8″ and “Crazy Rich Asians”, and won Best Actress for her work in “The Farewell” at The Gotham Awards. She has also released two albums, “Yellow Ranger” and “In Fina We Trust”, and also ventured into comedy and hosting, making television appearances in “Girl Code,” “Future Man” and “Saturday Night Live.”

The 10-episode series is set to premiere on Jan. 22, 2020 at 10:30 p.m.

Photo courtesy of Comedy Central


Queens homes ruined by massive sewage spill

A massive sewer backup in South Jamaica left more than 80 homes flooded with raw sewage. Officials from the Department of Environmental Protection said that the mess was the result of a clogged or collapsed sewer main. The sewage filled basements of homes in the area of Inwood Street and several blocks surrounding that community. The homeowners woke up the following morning to find up to four feet of putrid black sewage in their cellars, covering personal property, walls and floors, and destroying heating and electrical devices. Many of the homes were rendered uninhabitable, and the stench caused many to feel sick.

Police had closed the 150th Street overpass, where contractors were on the scene cutting through asphalt to get to what they say was possibly a 20 inch sewer main up to 40 feet under the ground. Workers say they did not know where the main was clogged or “more likely collapsed.”

Photo by Todd Maisel


Activists rally for safer conditions for workers at Queens Amazon warehouses

Community activists, former Staten Island Amazon warehouse workers, Senator Jessica Ramos and Queens Borough President candidate Costa Constantinides faced the cold to protest the future openings of Amazon distribution centers in Woodside and Maspeth, right outside of their newly opened warehouse in Woodside on Dec. 16. Athena Coalition, a group of New York, New Jersey and other national organizations that advocate for working people in the U.S. — such as Make the Road New York, one of the organizers at the rally — released a report entitled “Packaging Pain,” which detailed the “hazardous conditions” that Amazon warehouse workers face during the holidays. Some of the findings of that report include an injury rate that is three times higher than the national average rate.

“For too long, Amazon has been able to get away with treating workers like robots. Workers leave these warehouses in pain everyday,” Make the Road Field Coordinator Juan Goris said. “They feel they don’t have a choice because a robot determines whether they can put food on the table for their family. We must bring an end to these inhumane working conditions which thousands of New Yorkers have to endure everyday.”

Photo: Angélica Acevedo/QNS