'I don't know how we'll survive. All the shops are closed. People are without food and water'

Nikhil Kumar meets struggling Manhattanites

"It was already hard and suddenly this," said David Mac, standing in a puddle inside ABC Central Cleaners, down the road from the transformer that blew up as New York's East River spilled over into south-eastern Manhattan. The explosion took out the lights; the water took out the motors that power ABC's cleaning equipment. "There's an 8ft basement downstairs," Mr Mac, ABC's owner, said. "The water was eight feet high."

Yesterday, he was still clearing away Superstorm Sandy's leftovers: sodden bills and records, damaged floor mats, bins filled with dirty water.

"I don't know if we'll get any help. No one here gets flood insurance. We're in Manhattan. Who thought this would happen?"

As a precaution, he had hung up as many of his customers' clothes as he could on rails suspended from the ceiling. "But we have to get new motors," he said, pointing to a row of washing machines behind a dirty plastic screen. Fixing them alone will cost around $35,000 (£22,000), he said. And then there's the cost of new flooring and supplies. "It's not like everything was OK before," he said, moving a set of plastic storage drawers overflowing with water. "Look at this, look at the supermarket next door."

The supermarket was locked up. But water was still seeping out beneath the shutters.

The trail of destruction left in Sandy's wake has seen at least 59 people killed in the US. Many more, like Mr Mac, are struggling to carry on after one of the most ferocious storms to strike the East Coast.

"I don't know how people will survive," said Patricia Troche, who lives in a public housing complex across the street from the cleaners. As the sun finally reappeared over the city yesterday, Mrs Troche was throwing out a bin-bag full of food, ruined in the power cut.

"I don't know what to do. My husband has a heart condition and he didn't want to leave and my son didn't want to leave, so we stayed. Now I'm throwing away food and it's not like I can go and buy more around here: all the shops are closed, everything.

"There's so many people here without food, water. You can still get water on my floor, but higher up, there's nothing. What are these people supposed to do?"

Nearby, a homeless man, who gave his name as Rob, was only just returning to the area after escaping the flood waters. Before Sandy, he often spent his nights on the pavement. "I ran. I couldn't do anything else, so I ran up," he said, gesturing away from the riverfront. He got away, but he had to shed his belongings. He spent Monday night hiding from the wind in doorways and side-streets uptown. "I waited too long to get out. I didn't have much – but it's all I had."

At its height, the East River extended almost three blocks inland in this down-at-heel section of the island, according to Mrs Troche and other residents. Trees were felled and cars submerged. Two days on, Alfredo Irizzarry was waiting for a mechanic to come and fix his engine. "The river just came straight down here. People were screaming and shouting, running up the road. All those cars down there on Avenue C got flooded," he said. "They've been towing them away since yesterday."

"My car got flooded," he added, shaking his head. Then his father, who was standing nearby, weighed in: "It was a disaster. It's still a disaster."

A couple of blocks south, in the Lower East Side, one of Manhattan's poorest localities, the streetlights were still dark and wardens were directing traffic, mostly garbage trucks, police patrols, fire engines and buses. Few taxis or private cars were on the roads. Many of those that were had, like Mr Irizzarry's vehicle, been "totalled".

"You don't expect things like this," Mr Irizzarry said. "Not around here."