One building houses some phone company offices. Sandbags were used to protect equipment in the basement as the water was pumped out, said Deputy Fire Chief James Daly.
Most of the buildings affected are five or six stories, with apartments and small businesses.
"Everything is totally ruined," said a devastated-looking Sharon Hershkowitz, who owns a heavily affected building and its ground floor business, Balloon Saloon.
Her damaged inventory included party supplies, balloons and cards. She said she wouldn't be able to deliver orders Friday for several birthday parties and corporate events.
"In these economic hard times, you don't want to lose any customers," she said.
One of her tenants, resident Larry Blasius, awoke around 2:30 a.m. when firefighters pounded on his door.
"I looked out and saw the river of water below," said Blasius, who ended up standing on the street, looking sleepy but resigned. "I've lived in New York City all my life. You put up with all the inconveniences."
The water main dates was installed in 1870.
"Eventually it's going to go; it can't last forever," Daly said.
After hours of excavation, workers reached the cast iron pipe, about 5 feet under the street. Then they began removing the broken portion so it could be replaced.
The repairs shut down a number of streets in that area on Friday.
The mess also disrupted service on three subway lines and three bus routes that serve the area.
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