LOWER EAST SIDE — World-famous Katz's Deli remained open for business Thursday despite a water-main break that sent a river rushing down Houston Street and flooded its basement with three feet of water an hour before.
Three addresses were affected by the sudden flood a 20-inch pipe dating from 1959 ruptured near the deli, 205 East Houston St., at Ludlow Street, about 11 a.m., an FDNY spokeswoman said. Both 201 and 199 Houston were also affected, but the spokeswoman couldn't say how.
"At first, there was water coming through a little crack. Then the ground started lifting up and spitting more water. Before you knew it, there was a big flood on the sidewalk. Then everything started sinking in. I've never seen anything like it," said a deli security guard, Kelly Washington, 50.
The Thursday flood forced Katz's to cancel some deliveries scheduled that morning, switch to paper plates and flooded the basement with three feet of water, destroying the floor, but the deli was open for business almost immediately after the break.
"It's a nightmare. I'm throwing things out left and right," said Katz's owner Jake Dell, 27.
"Business is still good. We were open during Hurricane Sandy. Rain or shine, we've got an obligation to serve," Dell said. "Don't worry, I'll have pastrami for everyone."
Another Katz's worker expressed his confidence about riding out the surge.
"Nobody can resist what we have. People will swim through water to get our corned beef and pastrami," added John James, 65, a Katz's counter worker.
Passersby took video of the racing waters until nearby construction workers cut the flow about 11:55 a.m., the spokeswoman said.
A large hole could be seen in the middle of Houston Street once the waters receded.
No injuries were reported, the FDNY said.
Crews cut water to the area in order to do repairs. Five commercial buildings and eight residential buildings temporarily had their water turned off until the repairs could be completed, the Department of Environmental Protection said.
Water should be restored by Thursday night and the sink hole repaired some time Friday, said DEP official, Jim Roberts.
It was not immediately clear what caused the main to burst or how many gallons of water flowed out of it.
"It's a significant amount of water for sure," Roberts said.
Roads were closed in the area and the city's Office of Emergency Management advised drivers to take alternate routes.
Con Edison also dispatched crews to the scene.
Dell said they would have to wait until the water receded to see the full extent of the damage.
"We've had ever city agency in here from OEM to the fire department to the police, Con Ed and the health department."
Since its opening in 1888, Katz's has been a city landmark that has been featured in films such as "When Harry Met Sally."