NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) - A water main break flooded East Houston Street on Thursday and caused a sinkhole in front the iconic Katz's Delicatessen.
The break occurred shortly before 11 a.m. The approximately 20-foot-by-20-foot hole took out both eastbound lanes of East Houston, and traffic was blocked in both directions between Allen and Essex streets. As of 5 p.m., the eastbound lanes were still closed.
"It didn't sink until the water was shut down, and then it started to form that sinkhole from all the erosion," FDNY Battalion Chief Tom Hawknee told 1010 WINS' Al Jones.
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"It's literally a sinkhole," Jake Dell, owner of Katz's Deli, told 1010 WINS. "The thing is the entire width of the street, and it's completely caved in."
Water could be seen pouring into businesses on the street. Katz's basement was inundated by 5 feet of water.
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"There was a little trickle, and about four seconds later, that trickle just burst through the wall," Dell told CBS 2's Kathryn Brown.
The deli stayed open during the chaotic clean-up scene, as did a pizza shop, art gallery and lobster house that were also affected.
"No, don't worry, I'll have pastrami for everyone," Dell assured.
Workers at Katz's dragged out load after load of muddy, ruined food, supplies and equipment, Brown reported.
"I'm just throwing things out left and right," Dell said. "You can see, it's just a nightmare."
Fortunately, the deli stores its pastrami aboveground.
"It's my duty to have pastrami for you," Dell said.
Witnesses said the flooding and sinkhole were sudden.
"Running around, everybody's like, 'Look, look,'" witness Louie Rivera told Brown. "We just seen the water was so high, like maybe a feet off the floor. We was like, 'Woh!'"
"Just lots of water everywhere, and then a gigantic hole in the street," added another witness, Sam Boyd.
The 20-inch main was installed in 1959, the city's Department of Environmental Protection said.
The cause of the break remains under investigation.
Although the surrounding streets are packed with construction projects, DEP Deputy Commissioner Jim Roberts said it does not appear there was any active construction around the break.
The water was shut off to five commercial and eight residential buildings while repairs are being made.
Roberts told Jones repairs should be fairly straightforward.
"I would imagine we should have that done by tomorrow (Friday)," he said.
Repair crews shut down gas lines in the area as a precaution.
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