Rodents Winning Rat Race; Humans Fight Back

NEW YORK (AP) -

Ines Moore stirs awake nearly every night to an unmistakable, skin-crawling sound: rats skittering around her apartment in the dark.

Sticky traps scattered around the tidy, fifth-floor walkup yield as many as three rats a night, what she believes is just a fraction of the invading army that makes her feel under siege.

“I feel good in the United States — except for this. Here, in my home,” said Moore, a Dominican immigrant who can’t afford to leave her rent-controlled apartment in northern Manhattan’s Washington Heights.

Her neighborhood is among the most rat-infested in New York City, along with West Harlem, Chinatown, the Lower East Side and the South Bronx. They are the focus of the city’s latest effort to attack a rat population that some experts estimate could be double that of the Big Apple’s 8.4 million people.

Starting next month, the city’s 45 inspectors will be bolstered by nine new employees of a pilot program to tackle the vermin in chronically infested neighborhoods where rats have resisted repeated efforts to eradicate them.

“Rats burrow and live in colonies,” Health Commissioner Mary Bassett told the City Council at a hearing last month. “I’ll sometimes imagine when I walk through a park, if I could have sort of a ‘rat vision,’ there are all these tunnels under there that are occupied by rats. And from there the rats fan out.”

Financed with $611,000 in the current city budget, inspectors will work with neighborhood associations, community boards, elected officials and building owners to plug up holes and put poison in rodent tunnels.

New York’s Rat Information Portal — or, appropriately, RIP — is an interactive online map that tracks Health Department violations, with searches by borough, address, block number and ZIP code. Spots marked red are deemed to be rat-infested; those in yellow have passed inspection.

It’s impossible to tally the exact number of rats in New York, says Joel Grassi, a Baptist minister and professional exterminator.

“As long as there are human beings in New York City, there will be rats, because they live off [people’s] garbage — that’s their No. 1 thing,” says Grassi, adding that the best way to manage the rat population is to eliminate their food supply.

For now, the rats’ nightly visits to Moore’s apartment continue.

“I’m angry,” Moore says. “We’re all human beings and we all deserve to live decently.”