Offline Reginald Hudlin

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« on: February 07, 2013, 10:34:54 am »


February 6, 2013
Storm’s Toll Creeps Inland, 4 Tiny Feet at a TimeBy CARA BUCKLEY
At first, Sarah Heming thought it was one of her dogs pitter-pattering across the second floor of her two-story rental in Brooklyn Heights late at night. But the sounds intensified in places where the dogs just couldn’t go; there was frantic scrabbling in the walls, followed by weighty thuds, and squeaks. There was scampering under the stove.

An exterminator was summoned and confirmed Ms. Heming’s suspicions: rats were running amok in the home. “Basically, it’s taken over my life,” said Ms. Heming, who now sleeps with earplugs and is about to move to a renovated apartment in Carroll Gardens. “I’m a light sleeper turning into a nonsleeper. It feels a little bit out of control.”

The fate of New York City’s legions of rats remained something of a mystery in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. Rodent specialists predicted that many rats would drown in submerged subway tunnels, but also that survivors would feast on the buffet of garbage strewed in the streets. Now, several exterminators say they know exactly what happened to the rats: Driven from shorelines, the rodents came inland, in droves.

Shortly after the storm, exterminators were inundated with calls from Dumbo, Brooklyn Heights and Lower Manhattan. And once the rats were resettled, they grew accustomed to their surroundings, feasting on the garbage created by the hurricane as well as by the normal churn of the winter holidays.

“They became so bad I couldn’t even take all the jobs,” said Jonathan Vargas, a partner with All Day Exterminating, who estimated that his rat complaint calls doubled in number after Hurricane Sandy. Timothy Wong, a managing partner with M&M Environmental, a pest control company on the Lower East Side, said rat complaints began to soar after the hurricane and have not let up yet, partly because the wintry weather is driving the rodents indoors.

“The subway, the sewer, a lot got disrupted,” said Mr. Wong, who said complaints about rats were about as bad as he has seen in 10 years. “There’s so much garbage out in the streets these days. Renovations because of the flood. Christmas trees. These things make it worse. For them, it’s Restaurant Week.”

Mr. Wong said he had been getting calls from schools and businesses, and from luxury buildings where rats have made warrens out of the planters. Shortly after the storm, his company received calls from several customers aghast to discover teeth marks and droppings in their cars. Mr. Wong’s advice: open the door. Though one woman, a BMW owner, refused, and instead hired his company to open the door for her, and shoo the rat out.

“We don’t actually know how it got in,” Mr. Wong said. “All I know is that there was rat feces and a Starbucks cookie and the bag was all chewed up.”

Mr. Wong said many of his clients were being cited for rat infestations, though, conversely, violations are not going up citywide: the number of violations for rodents issued since Hurricane Sandy dropped to 1,996, compared to 2,750 for the same period the previous year. Still, the figures offer an incomplete picture. After Hurricane Sandy, as of Nov. 1, the Health Department said it stopped issuing violations for rodents in Zone A, which includes parts of all five boroughs, among them Battery Park City in Manhattan; Red Hook, Coney Island and parts of Dumbo and Brooklyn Heights in Brooklyn; City Island in the Bronx; and the Rockaways in Queens.

Jim O’Brien, the owner of Pest Quest Pest Management on Staten Island, said rat problems had been especially acute in wetland areas and shorelines on Staten Island and in New Jersey. There, many homes are empty and being repaired by workers, who leave behind pizza boxes and uneaten food. “It’s really an open playing field for the rodents,” he said. Still, he gave credit to New York City’s Sanitation Department for working around the clock to clear storm debris. “They put a damper on what potentially could have been a serious issue,” he said.

One rainy night this week, Manuel Medina, an exterminator for M&M, amassed an array of rat-killing devices: giant glue boards, poison and serrated devices called T-Rexes that snap shut like bear traps. He headed to a nasty basement in Chinatown — “kind of like a Freddy Krueger basement,” he said, one so nasty that some of his fellow exterminators had refused to venture in.

The basement was pitch black, its ceiling lined with tangled, dusty cables and sagging, cobwebbed pipes, its floor strewn with belly-up cockroaches, its walls mottled with water bugs. A distant pipe dripped steadily. In short, it was rat heaven.

For people like Ms. Heming, rats have always been a part of life in New York, but she says the problem has grown since the storm. Mr. Medina is not sure whether the hurricane is to blame, but he said the city’s rat problem was getting worse, with more construction on the go, and more garbage being poorly stored, as trash bags split open, dripping juices and grease.

He made his way quietly around the Chinatown basement, led only by the dim glow of his smartphone, until he found what he was looking for: three freshly dug rat holes, and droppings that might have been left by a small dog.

Mr. Medina reached into his bag and pulled out several blocks of poison. “For the big boys,” he said, but he knew he would be returning. “It’s been an ongoing battle,” he said, “We kill ’em, but they’ll still keep coming.”