LOWER MANHATTAN — Shattered storefronts and heavily damaged cars littered Lower Manhattan Tuesday as Hurricane Sandy's surging floodwaters receded.
Windows caved, trees toppled and tunnels overflowed with water even after the worst of the rain and wind abated, alarming residents and workers who said the damage was the worst natural disaster they could remember.
"I've been living in the city for 54 years, and I've never seen anything like this," said Jonathan Jossen, 54, a Battery Park City resident. "I don't want to ever really see this again. This is awful."
At the South Street Seaport, cars floated in 5 feet of water on Front Street at the height of the storm. At the Ann Taylor store nearby, toppled mannequins and scattered clothing could be seen through the broken windows.
"They're pretty beat up," Jose Jimenez, a worker at Historic Front Street, said of the street's buildings. "Sheet rock was torn off. Everything is wet."
At the Beekman Beer Garden on Pier 17, trailers were knocked over and outdoor furniture was wiped away, a security guard at the South Street Seaport said.
"They got hit the hardest," the worker said of the outdoor bar. "There is no more beer garden."
Business owners in the Seaport were mopping up the torrents of water Tuesday. Clumps of debris filled the streets, which were slick with the oil from fryers in flooded bars and restaurants.
Four feet of water flooded Jeremy's Ale House on Front Street, owner Jeremy Holin said. On Tuesday afternoon, Holin sat at the bar with a single lit candle, planning his cleanup.
"We've been here almost 40 years," Holin said. "We've been through 9/11, the hurricane in '92, multiple nor'easters.This is the worst it's ever been, but we'll survive."
The Engine 4/Ladder 15 firehouse on South Street was also hit hard. A pile of sandbags at the station's doors wasn't enough to keep out a wall of water that FDNY Battalion Chief David Simms said was more than 6 feet tall.
"It came over the sandbags and the weight of the water broke the doors," said Simms, who added that "never in all my years" had he seen so much damage.
The firefighters temporarily moved up to the station on Duane Street but still responded to hundreds of calls Monday night, including helping people trapped in cars and scaffolding collapses, Simms said.
Although floodwaters were receding Tuesday, the entrance to the Hugh L. Carey Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel looked like a lake, and many subway stations were under water, including the South Ferry 1 train station, which officials said was flooded all the way up to the ceiling. At the Whitehall R station, tiles were ripped from the walls and the stairs led down into a pool of water.
"The Hudson River was pouring into the Brooklyn-Battery [Hugh Carey] Tunnel like a river," Gov. Andrew Cuomo said. "It was a frightening sight."
Cuomo was also concerned by the volume of water he saw rushing into the World Trade Center site, and he described the damage Downtown as "some of the worst conditions I've ever seen."
Parking garages in the area also flooded, and part of Fulton Street caved in between Water and Cliff streets, witnesses said. Businesses in the neighborhood, much of which was in evacuation Zone A, were still closed Tuesday, as was the New York Stock Exchange.
Residents who did not evacuate began leaving their apartments Tuesday morning to investigate the damage.
"There was just so much water coming down from the street here, it was literally like Niagara Falls, just coming in and the cars were floating," said Peter Poulakakos, 36, a Downtown restaurateur who watched as water filled the windows of several sedans on South William Street.
He said some of the vehicles were submerged in 12 feet of water.
"They tried to get the cars out of here, but there was so much water," Poulakakos said. "There was nothing to be done."
Joe Timpone, senior vice president of operations for the Downtown Alliance business improvement district, said the Alliance's cleanup crews had barely been able to start working, because electrical and communications systems were down and it was hard for workers to get to Lower Manhattan.
"This is like Armageddon," Timpone said. "It's absolutely unbelievable."
Most of Lower Manhattan was still without power Tuesday afternoon, but some buildings in Battery Park City had electricity, residents said.
Leo Medrano, 36, of the Lower East Side, said he lost one car parked in the lot of his building, Lands End.
"I wish I would have evacuated and moved to higher ground," he said.
"The water was up to my shoulders, at least. The water was that high," he added, noting that the flooding extended from South Street to Cherry Street. "I've never seen that much rain."
Some business owners were grateful that their stores had escaped serious harm, including Nan Lee, 48, from Sheepshead Bay, who runs Fresh Cleaners on South End Avenue.
"We're right by the water so we just wanted to check the windows and there was no water left inside," Lee said, adding that she and her husband couldn't sleep Monday night. "Thank God everything is OK.''