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Animal Attack

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Wednesday, July 5, 2000

A scurrying army of cat-sized rats has invaded a housing project on the Lower East Side, creating what terrified tenants call a "highly dangerous" health hazard.

The insidious infestation began months ago, when construction workers started tearing up and replacing sewage pipes directly outside the Baruch Houses at East Houston Street and the FDR Drive.

"These rats are so big, the cats are afraid of them," said resident Morris Spitzer. "This is a dangerous situation."

Spitzer said there are plenty of rats running around the buildings in broad daylight, but the problem is even worse at night.

"They are like vampires - they come out in droves at night," said Spitzer, a 40-year-old warehouse supervisor.

Angela Laine, a 26-year-old day-care teacher who grew up in the neighborhood, said the city's Department of Housing Preservation and Development is not doing enough to fight the rodents.

"They need to take care of the problem now before somebody get bit and dies from rabies," said Laine. "These people pay their rent every month. They should not have to live like this."

Laine said they have complained numerous times to Housing, but with no success.

Spitzer agreed, complaining that "talking to Housing is like talking to a tree."

Baseball-size rat holes are everywhere on the grounds of the project.

The tracks made by the rodents are clearly visible on the grass, including a well-beaten path between the piles of garbage and the base of one building.

A Post reporter even saw three of the rodents in broad daylight during a visit to the houses.

Residents say they are forced to stay indoors during the hot summer nights because the place is swarming with bloated rats the size of footballs.

"We have more rats here than tenants," griped Myrna Rodriguez, 31. "The people are afraid of the rats. Nobody lets their kids play outside at night anymore."

Jose Alvarez, a 43-year-old maintenance worker, said he gets the creeps every time he has to leave or enter the building at night.

"You come up through here at night and you could easily see 20 or 30 rats playing tag at the front of the building," Alvarez said. "It's very scary. They are taking over the damn neighborhood."

A Health Department spokeswoman said it would look into the complaints, but no Housing spokesman could be reached.

Copyright 2000 NYP Holdings, Inc. All rights reserved.

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