An aging water main burst in Lower Manhattan early Friday, flooding about 15 buildings, causing evacuations and closing streets within a three block radius.

The 12-inch main broke at the intersection of West Broadway and Duane Street around 2:30 a.m. Friday. The water was up to 4 feet deep in some buildings at the height of the flood. It gushed for about three hours, and continued to trickle as workers dug up the street.

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 to the 1800s.

"Eventually it's going to go; it can't last forever," Daly said.

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