As Tuesday morning came, the choppy river that spanned Nevins through Bond streets the night before had receded, debris littered the street and a strong stench of gasoline emanated from the Gowanus Canal.
Thanks to the 10-foot surges during Hurricane Sandy and the high tides of the full moon on Monday night, the Gowanus Canal flooded into the streets, buildings and homes. The Third Street and Carroll Street bridges were fully submerged, according to residents.
The span from Nevins to Bond streets was at least five feet deep in the street.
“There was a lake from Nevins to Bond, and Nevins had whitecaps— you could have surfed it,” said Chris Smylie, a Third Avenue resident, while standing at the end of Second Street on Tuesday. “The Carroll Street Bridge’s railings were under water and ran like a river, no one could cross it.”
Smylie said that he was thankful it did not rain much during Hurricane Sandy. He said if had rained harder, raw sewage would have come into the canal from the sewer system and gone all throughout the neighborhood once the toxic waterway rose above the banks.
Trash was scattered in squiggly lines along Bond St. where the floodwater lapped. Truck tires, a cluster of framed artwork, firewood, toys, scrap metal and more littered the sidewalks. A watermark ran along the sides of buildings five feet high.
A houseboat was pushed up out of the canal and lay tilted in Rabbit Movers’ lot along the banks between First and Carroll streets. Also in the lot lay the charred carcass of a mobile home that caught fire in the middle of the night. An employee of a production company that shares the lot said that the RV was left plugged in, to charge the battery, and caught fire once the water rose over the outlet.
However, some of the worst damage could not be seen from the streets.
On the corner of Second St., between the canal and Bond St., Eddie Lopez carried out a cart of canned food he was able to salvage from his ground floor apartment. Around 9:30 p.m., Lopez said, the water began to run into his home even though he sandbagged the front door.
“I thought the door was going to blow in and then a river raged through my home,” Lopez said as he pointed to the watermark, which ran along every wall inside his apartment, a foot high. “All my appliances are shot, my bed, my belongings. I lost it all. I lost everything.”
Lopez said he was going to evacuate and go to a friend’s house, but two of his eight cats were stubborn and hid when he tried to take them out of the apartment. So, he stayed the night.
“I had to stay to make sure the cats survived. I stayed all night and watched the damage,” he said, explaining that his cat Philly, a 20-pound semi-feral, and Minneapolis, a five-pound kitten were perched on top of his furniture and shelves. “They just refused to leave.”
Lopez also runs a non-profit cat adoption service through the Mayor’s Office called Neighborhood Cats. He refers to his service as a Rescue and Foster, where he catches stray cats, cleans them up, neuters them and then tries to find a home for them.
The water receded back into the canal early Tuesday morning, but his basement still had water sitting stagnant, mixed with a collection of his belongings floating around the mucky waters.
“The streets were a liquid circus—tires and garbage floating in the flowing river,” he said. “It was fascinating.”
At this point, he has no electricity, no gas and all of his appliances and belongings are ruined. Before he left his apartment to stay at a friend’s on Tuesday, he was surveying the damage while talking to his insurance company, who he hopes will come in a few days.
Lou Papaleo, who lives just outside of Zone A in Gowanus, said he had to move his car after he found it partially under water Monday night. He said he has lived in the neighborhood for almost 60 years and has “seen everything,” but Hurricane Sandy’s wrath was a first.
“The canal came up 20 years ago, but not nearly as bad as this,” Papaleo said while standing on Bond St. “I’ve never seen the Gowanus this big.”