By Jill Colvin and Julie Shapiro
LOWER EAST SIDE — Some streets and parks near the East and Hudson rivers remained flooded Sunday afternoon as Manhattanites returned to the streets and city workers began repairing damage throughout neighborhoods in the wake of Hurricane Irene.
Uprooted trees, broken branches, minor floods, faulty traffic lights and cordoned off streets were seen across the borough's neighborhoods. Workers were already on hand trying to deal with the damage.
Despite a storm surge that threatened to flood lower Manhattan, major power outages were avoided in lower Manhattan and it appeared unlikely that Con Ed would cut electricity because of salt water damage.
By the far the most pressing issue facing New Yorkers, however, was the return of the city's transit system. The MTA warned that only limited service would be available by the time the city needed to return to work on Monday.
New Yorkers living in neighborhoods that were most prone to flooding were relieved to see water levels begin to recede. The water level was one foot below the top of the protective wall that surrounds Battery Park City, which many had feared was most at most risk for floods.
Some streets remained flooded Sunday morning, including those under the Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridges, and along the Hudson River Park between West 96th and West 125th Streets, and Harlem River Drive, near 125th.
“It’s fascinating. You can see the river actually come over the wall,” said Carmelo Aviles, 45, who lives on Rutgers Street, beside the river, and stayed behind despite the evacuation order.
Emilio Melendez, 22, who works as a plumber at the Lower East Side's Knickerbocker Village, said that basements there are already flooded by up to two feet of water in some places, including near electrical panels.
“It makes you realize the even though we live in America, we’re still subjected to natural disasters,” Melendez said as he walked downtown. “No matter where you are in the world, mother nature has the upper hand.”
Paul Sekula, 27, who lives on Monroe Street, said the flooding is worst north of Battery Park City, near the South Street Seaport.
“How many times do you see a hurricane hit New York. This is a rare event," he said.
The Downtown Alliance said their public safety officers few signs of major damage while canvassing the area, other than light flooding at Maiden Lane and South Sreet and some downed branches.
Officials continued warning residents Sunday to remain inside.
“This is a very dangerous storm. The winds, in particular, are very dangerous and can come without warning," said Cas Holloway, the Deputy Mayor for Operations, echoing comments made earlier by the mayor.
Already, more than six inches of rain had fallen in Central Park, and calls to 911 were beginning to spike.
In Staten Island, fire officials were using police boats to rescue more than 60 people, including three babies, after 21 homes were inundated by more than five feet of water.
In Broad Channel, FDNY units and boats were searching bungalows, “that are literally floating down the street,” officials said.
On the west side, West 22nd Street was completely flooded between Tenth and Eleventh avenues by water about two feet deep.
Despite the storm, some residents stood outside gawking, while others played in the water during breaks in the rain.
Jon Goldberg, 44, who lives at 525 W. 22nd St., away from the flooding, had chosen to stay in his home through the storm.
"I didn't think it was going to be that bad. It didn't make a lot of sense to leave, especially if this is the worst that it gets. We have two young kids. It would be hard," he said.
In the East Village, the most visible damage was along Avenue C, where some buildings owners reported more than a foot of water flooding their basements.
Many community gardens in the neighborhood had sustained serious damage, with many fallen trees limbs and uprooted trees. At La Plaza Cultural on East Ninth Street and Avenue C, a huge willow tree had toppled, crushing benches and other trees.
“We’ve never seen this before. It’s really sad,” said Pedro Diez, 39, a garden board member, who lives on East 10th Street between Avenue C and Avenue D.
In Tompkins Square Park, a tree was toppled over the East Ninth Street pathway that runs through the park.
Officials had been expecting a four-to-eight foot storm surge, exacerbated by high tides, through the height of the storm.
With reporting from Patrick Hedlund, Mathew Katz