DELUGED: Glimpses of Lower Manhattan in the Days of the Flood

West Street, near the Rector Street Bridge. The hurricane swelled the Hudson River, flowed over Battery Park City and turned West Street into a river of its own. Photo by Scot Surbeck


Like the rest of the city and the region, Lower Manhattan woke up on Tues­day morning, Oct. 30, to the aftermath of the city’s worst storm in memory. From the South Street Seaport, where workers struggled to appraise damaged restaurants and shops, to Battery Park City where most residents had evacuated (but to the surprise of many still had power) an eerie quiet hung in the damp air.

Although flood damage was severe in parts of the Seaport and Financial District, the biggest challenge facing Downtown residents on Tuesday and, for many, the days after that, was lack of power.

What would become a seemingly  ubiquitous roar of generators sucking up countless tonnage of river water from Lower Manhattan basements was only beginning to kick in.

Doormen like Charles Hall, working in the dark lobby of 310 Greenwich Street in Tribeca’s Independence Plaza, said the most frequently asked question in Tribeca on the day after the storm was, “What is the latest on electricity?”

At the 39-story IPN complex, which had no working elevators until Nov. 3, residents huffed their way slowly to upper floors using flashlights to navigate the dark stairways, and then the pitch-black hallways.

Though hardly as damaged as areas outside Manhattan, Downtown was hit hardest in the Seaport and the eastern edge of the Financial District, where water from the storm surge reached heights of six feet on several streets.

On Wall Street, between South and Front, maintenance workers on that Tuesday—and for days after that—were pumping water from the basements of high-rise buildings. The water had risen at least five feet and appeared to have broken windows on the ground floor of 111 Wall Street.

“The whole basement was flooded,” said lawyer Peter Nissman, who noted that he lost many files to the stormwater. “We came by on Sunday to move them to higher shelves. I had no idea the water would go so high.”

The South Street Seaport’s historic ships had no signs of visible damage, but most of Pier 16—which had been covered with five feet of water—and Pier 17—was off limits.

Pier 15 appeared undamaged but the air was heavy with the smell of fuel and the water to the south had the sheen of an oil slick.

The end of Pier 17 is higher than that of Pier 16, so many ground-floor shops had been spared significant damage, according to a guard working in the area.
“Nothing was as bad here as it was across the street,” he said, nodding toward Fulton.

The ground floors of most buildings on Schermerhorn Row were flooded, and many of the side streets below Pearl off  Fulton were damaged by the rushing tide.

On the other side of the island, Battery Park City—where most people had left their homes—ended up faring the best of Downtown neighborhoods, with power remaining on in almost all the buildings. Only number 400 in Gateway Plaza lost power, and remained without it for another three days. “It’s unbelievable,” said Jane Dunsmuir, a Battery Park City resident. “It feels like we are in this magical little bubble here.”

There was almost no place to buy food in Lower Manhattan on the day after the storm, though in Tribeca three smaller markets, Morgan’s, Picnic Bas­ket and Amish Market, stayed open for customers willing to shop by flashlight. And there were many.

“We were stocked up but we were hoping to find any dollar pizza place, anything we don’t have to prepare,” said Nick Ludwick, of 90 Washington St., who was charging his phone at a generator next to the Amish Market. “This is literally the only place open.”

At 2 p.m., security guard Tony Alton stood near the base of 7 World Trade Center, where water was being pumped out of the basement of a Con Ed station.

“They started this at 6 this morning and they still aren’t anywhere near being done,” said Alton, who spent the night at 160 Nassau with about 40 construction workers and others who could not go home.

“I’m just praying they will get this cleaned up as quickly as possible,” he said.



Jonathan Collins, director of the Hallmark senior residence in Battery Park City, was relieved to hear the mayor’s first pronouncement that there would be no evacuation. After all, the staff was prepared to stay put.

“We had food, we felt comfortable about weathering the storm,” Collins said.
But at 11:30 Sunday morning the Hallmark, in Zone A, had to evacuate. With just seven and a half hours left, the staff had to find accommodations for the residents, many of whom use walkers and some are in wheelchairs.

Everyone began working the phones. One hundred residents were able to be picked up by their relatives. But that left over 100 residents, their aides, their pets—two dogs, three birds and five cats—and the staff.

Collins rounded up two wheelchair- accessible buses and found a hotel in Manhattan for everyone—but at 2:30 he got a call from the hotel’s assistant manager, who had decided to cancel the reservation.

Now, with only five hours left, the staff frantically worked the phones again. They finally found rooms in two hotels in New Jersey and one in Philadelphia and, after checking every room twice, began the laborious move. “The park officers and police stood here for hours,” Collins said. “They helped us carry some people onto buses.”

The pets stayed behind with Collins and his wife, who have an apartment at the Hallmark. That night the manager of the hotel in Secaucus mentioned to social worker Sheila Evangelista that the hotel is subject to flooding. “I called Jonathan,” she recalled. “He said, ‘I need to get them out.’”

The next morning the residents were moved to the other New Jersey hotel where things seemed to finally be working out. Hallmark’s Whitney Bryant even led an exercise class for the evacuees.

But that night the hotel lost power and the generator was failing. To make matters worse, the hotel was running out of food.

At 1 p.m. on Tuesday, chancing that they would not be allowed back into the evacuation zone, the buses returned to Battery Park City, where power had never been lost. “We even got the cooks in for dinner,” Collins said proudly.

Despite the trouble, Collins could see a bright spot in it all.

“I told my boss this was the best team-building exercise you could ever have.”



The afternoon after the storm, Chef Christian Meliano stood in what had been the dining room of Il Porto restaurant at 11 Fulton St. and pointed to a beer refrigerator that storm waters had de­posited onto the restaurant’s bar.

“It takes us five people to move that fridge,” he said with disbelief. “I’ve never seen anything like that.”

Moving from room to room, Meliano and restaurant manager Gloria Jamarillo surveyed the damage with shock. Water inside the restaurant had reached nearly six feet. Windows were broken, tables and chairs overturned, liquor bottles scattered across the floor.

“Oh, my God,” Meliano called to Jamarillo. “You have to come look at my kitchen!”

Behind the kitchen doors the floor was covered with pots and pans and puddles of what appeared to be cooking oil. Water dripped from a broken faucet, stoves appeared to have floated and landed in other parts of the room.

“This is crazy,” said Jamarillo, who had made sure the restaurant windows were taped and sandbags were placed in front of the doors before the storm arrived. “I can’t believe it. Everything is destroyed.”



On Wednesday, in the basement level of Stone Street Tavern, co-owner Ronan Downs and his staff were cleaning up pools of spilled grease and hauling out bags of food and damaged supplies by candlelight. The bar had been severely flooded, but Downs was determined to get the place clean—electricity or no electricity.

“We know how important it is to New York City,” Downs said, taking a break outside the his bar. “We also know how important it is to our employees. They have families, so we want to get them working. We want to get working ourselves. We have families, too.”

A similar scene was unfolding in establishments all along the street.

“The Dubliner is being pumped out right now,” said Downs, a co-owner.
Water at both the Dubliner and Stone Street Tavern had reached nearly four feet during the storm.

“We found all the kitchen equipment floating,” Downs said. “Barrels of beer were floating. It was in total disarray. All our records, all our paperwork is totally destroyed in the office. The office is a complete mess.”

Still, Downs predicted that he would have the tavern up and running within 24 hours of getting electricity.

“It’s all hands on deck,” he said. “We just want to clean the place out, get the electric back on, and get back in business.”


It took hundreds of volunteer hours and careful pre-storm calculations by the South Street Seaport Museum’s waterfront director, Jonathan Boulware, but the museum’s historic ships safely rode out the storm.

“Did you see those boats? How beautifully those ships did?” said Museum President Susan Henshaw Jones on Thursday, Nov. 1, as she stood in front of the museum on Fulton Street. “If everything had been out on the ships, it would have been fine.”

Indeed, although all of the museum’s artwork and exhibits were safely on the museum’s upper floors, roughly five feet of water flooded the ground floor and its rental spaces and galleries on Water Street.

“Everything in here was just a shambles. Oh, shambles!” Jones said. “Shop merchandise ruined, the cafe ruined. Look at this sad thing.”

The “oil-laced surge” damaged the museum’s electrical, heating and elevator systems as well as its shop merchandise, Jones later wrote in a plea for donations.

“Hurricane Sandy has dealt us a body blow,” she said.



Hurricane Sandy forced countless laborious tasks onto those affected by the storm, but few are as painstaking as the ones now confronting Ali Osborn and Gideon Finck. The two men, recently hired to catalogue the museum’s extensive collection of wooden and metal type—millions of pieces—must remove the historic type from water-soaked drawers, wash off the salt water, and dry each letter so that it doesn’t warp.

In one fateful night, their job changed from cataloging the collection to saving it.

“If they bow, they’re useless,” said Osborn, surveying the wooden blocks spread across every available flat surface inside a storefront next to Bowne & Co., the South Street Seaport’s vintage print shop on Water Street. “They need to be flat for printing.” Volunteers were helping with the job.

“We were just starting to really discover the treasures in the collection,” Osborn said. “So the timing was really bad.”

“The jury’s out,” Finck said, pondering how much of the rare type could be saved. “But just judging from what we have been seeing over the last couple of days, it looks like the majority of type is not going to warp.”

Eight printing presses in the gallery were also covered with flood water, but the two men were fairly certain they could be repaired. And metal could wait longer than wood to be tended to.

“A lot of the wood type was used for 19th-century advertising,” Finck said. “It’s rare, it’s beautiful.”



Standing inside the dark and debris-filled Josh Bach gift shop on Fulton Street, Kristin Lepri reached out to grip the bottom of an enormous wooden display unit that had been knocked over in the storm and was leaning precariously against the wall.

“I’m going to climb up,” she called out to one of the store’s owners, who was stand­ing on the other end of the unit pulling off soggy merchandise and handing it to volunteers. “It’s OK. I’m small. I signed a waiver.”

Lepri, who hoisted herself up with ease and began emptying the shelves, was one of roughly 200 volunteers who showed up at the South Street Seaport on the Sunday after the storm.

Some brought their own shovels and garbage bags, others took rubber gloves handed out by New Amsterdam Market’s Robert LaValva, who organized the effort. Everyone pitched in where they could.

At Josh Bach, nine volunteers helped empty the store of merchandise, while co-owner Valentina Guazzoni stood outside and tried to determine what could be salvaged. At Barbarini, volunteers rinsed off slime-coated pots and pans and equipment. At Salud Restaurant and Bar they hauled debris to the street. At Keg 229, they helped knock down moldy sheetrock.

“The pouring out of hearts and care and concern gives me hope,” said Guazzoni, who is uncertain she will be able to reopen the shop. “New Yorkers really do come together in times of need.”

But as much as the volunteers did, more remains to be done. Few, if any businesses had flood insurance and the repairs needed to reopen are overwhelming for many owners.

“In the Seaport proper, every single ground floor business was ruined,” LaVal­va said. “Everything was washed away.”



The most vulnerable tenants, trapped in dark high-rise buildings, needed to be looked after. Groups organized by Chabad of Tribeca, JCP and Julie Menin were among those who trekked through the dark hallways of building complexes such as Independence Plaza and Southbridge Towers carrying backpacks full of food and water, flashlights and batteries.

Chabad of Tribeca and JCP started out in Inde­pendence Plaza on the second day after the storm and knocked on doors.

The 20 volunteers divided into groups, each covering 10 floors and assisted by staff who keep lists of tenants who may need help.

“Some people were perfectly content,” said Susan Silverstein, president of the JCP  board. “But there were also people who were scared and in need of help. They were trying to figure out how to acclimate and needed water.”

“People were so grateful and so overwhelmed,” the Cha­bad’s Chani Paris said of the experience. “There are some elderly people in the buildings who have no idea what was going on. They are just waiting for the lights to go back on. They have no radios or no batteries.”

On the 20th floor of one IPN building, volunteers found an 85-year-old woman dragging supplies up a dark stairwell, strug­gling to make it to her apartment above the 30th floor.

Another volunteer ran into a frantic woman at 310 Green­wich Street who said her elderly mother was on an oxygen tank that had run out the day be­fore and she didn’t know what to do.

“She asked the volunteer if she should call 311, and he said, ‘No. Call 911 right now,’” Paris recalled. An ambulance showed up soon after to help the woman.

But for many residents stuck inside on the second day after the storm, Paris said, a friendly face and information from the outside world was often as appreciated as food and water.

Deborah Dolan, property manager for the IPN complex, praised the tenants for helping each other. “Picking up food, walking dogs, they’ve been terrific,” she said.



At the height of the storm Hudson River Park Trust president Madelyn Wils climbed to the roof of Pier 40 to see for herself Sandy’s ferocious assault on the park.

“It was a sight to behold,” Wils recalled in quiet understatement during a phone interview later that week. “The whole park was underwater…it was surreal.”

The next morning, Wils walked through the park to assess what the receding waters had left behind. At Pier 25, flood waters had picked up concrete pavers and deposited them across the pier. Styrofoam used to create contours in the playground floated up, making rubble of the pavement that had covered it. Until the electricity is turned back on, Wils said the Trust would have no way of knowing if the utilities under the pier were working.

“I think at first when you see it all, it’s very disconcerting and there’s some trauma to it,” Wils said. “But it looks like the damage likely is not structural…and when you start putting that into perspective it doesn’t look so bad.”

The older piers, particularly Chelsea Piers, Pier 40 and Pier 57 took the hardest hit, Wils said. Pier 40 flooded badly, causing damage to its boiler and mechanical system, as well as the ball field.

“It’s an old structure and because of that, the mechanicals are on the ground where you wouldn’t put mechanicals these days,” Wils said.

The financially strapped Trust plans to apply for Federal Emergency Man­age­ment funds to pay for repairs, Wils said.

“At the end of the day it’s OK,” the former Community Board 1 chair said. “We’ll do what needs to be done to repair and rebuild what the storm took from us.”



Although inundated with river water during the storm, most of Battery Park did not sustain serious damage. The same cannot be said for the Battery Conservancy, the planners and supporters of the park with offices at nearby Broad and Water streets.

“We have floor-to-ceiling water,” Conservancy President Warrie Price said two days after Hurricane Sandy struck.

It would be days before Conservancy staff could go in to assess the damage. In the meantime, they were cleaning storm debris in the park, where three large trees were blown down, including one on top of equipment in the playground.

All the gardens were flooded with saltwater, and Price said it won’t be clear until next spring what plants have survived. The base for the park’s new marine-themed carousel “Seaglass” was undamaged, she added.

“I think we showed once again the Battery can take a full-force storm,” Price said.



For a couple of days after the storm, two men from Harlem brought a priceless gift to the Financial District: electricity and the Internet.

Angel Hernandez and Daymion Mardel had parked their car on Wall Street near William and were offering free wifi access and cell phone charging from equipment set up in their trunk.

“We are photographers, and we go on location where we have to be self-sufficient,” Hernandez said of the equipment.

The men could charge 30 cell phones at a time and on each of the two days they were parked on Wall Street with their electronics-filled trunk wide open.

“We’ve been overwhelmed,” Hernandez said. “This is the first chance some people have had to make a phone call in days, some to concerned relatives in their home countries.”

Hernandez recalled a young woman   from Moscow who had not been able to reach her parents since the storm struck.

“Her family said they heard on the news that there are sharks in the street,” Hernandez said. “They were really worried about her.”



As hard as it was to find food in Tribeca on Wednesday, Whole Foods was giving it away. Though the store at Greenwich and Warren was closed, with a backup generator illuminating the aisles inside, employees were manning both entrances. Up for grabs was a variety of produce and frozen foods.

“We’re giving away everything that’s safe and perishable,” said Luke De­Decker, a store manager standing at the Warren Street entrance behind a box of apples, most of them already taken.

“May I?” a woman asked, perusing the remaining few.

“Go for it. Take as many as you want,” DeDecker told her.

“You’re the guy,” she said, grabbing a couple.
DeDecker said the store’s team leader came up with the idea the night after the storm. “It’s a lot of stuff,” DeDecker said. “We just like to help our community.”



Who needs electricity? The gas for the oven was on, and pizza dough—though usually prepared these days in an electric mixer—can always be made the old-fashioned way.

“We are making and kneading everything by hand, which takes care of the electrical problem so far,” said Anthony Catanzaro, owner of Portobello’s Pizzeria, 83 Murray St., on Wednesday.

That day Portobello’s appeared to be the only restaurant open in all of Tri­beca—and well beyond—and a stream of grateful diners popped in.

Most got food to go, but a few ate in the darkness of the pizzeria’s dining room.

“Last night I had my guys ready, Cat­anzaro said. “Some of them walked over the bridge. I bicycle to work anyway so we got here early and here we are.”



A bond of community and giving back formed in Battery Park City after the upheaval and displacement that followed the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

And in the lobby of the 600 building of Gateway Plaza, days after the storm, that spirit lived on.

That’s where dozens of residents gathered for breakfast and dinner that week, making sure that the tenants of the only building in Battery Park City to go without power—the 400 building—could still have some comforts of home.

The lobby was filled with the chatter of neighbors and the gobbling down of home-cooked meals, courtesy of those lucky tenants with electricity.

“People need to eat. And they need the warmth of knowing they’re taken care of,” said Rosalie Joseph, who has led most of the community events in Battery Park City over the past 11 years. “And when your spirits are down, you have to know that somebody’s got your back and a community around you.”

“Like people did for us,” she added, alluding to the outpouring of support Battery Park City residents received after 9/11.

In the middle of dinner on Thurs­day , the super of the 400 building arrived to announce that power was back in the building and one elevator was running. There was applause, but one tenant, perhaps only half joking, saw it differently.

“It’s really nice what they did here,” he said. “I think people don’t want the lights to go on.”