Photograph courtesy of sxc.hu
As floodwaters poured into New York City’s tunnels and subways, rodents that make their homes in the holes and crevices underground found themselves inundated, a result of Hurricane Sandy that may have more effectively eliminated the pests than years of poisoning.
“Flooding does flush some rats to the surface, but [the hurricane] drowned many rats, particularly young rats,” Sam Miller, assistant commissioner for public affairs at the city's Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, wrote in an email. “That is a benefit. We have not seen increased reports of rats on the streets.”
It’s a good thing that there aren’t more of the rodents sidling along the sidewalks. Rats carry a variety of diseases, from typhus to Hantavirus, which can have ill effects on people. They also have an effect on urban wildlife: they eat birds and bird eggs. “They are very effective predators on pigeons,” wrote Miller.
No one is quite sure exactly how many rats live in Gotham, or how many expired because of Hurricane Sandy, but it’s a rare commute when one doesn’t show its whiskered face near the tracks. “Rodents, it turns out, reside inside station walls, emerging occasionally from cracks in the tile to rummage for food,” reported The New York Times in 2010. Still, “the legend of teeming rat cities tucked deep into subway tunnels is, in fact, a myth. The electrified tracks, scientists said, are far too dangerous,” The shrewd animals also make their home in sewers, alleys, parks, and many other suitable urban environs, so one storm won’t be the end of them. (Nor will the nor’easter scheduled to blow through the city tonight.)
The storm did prove deadly to lab rodents used to study disease at a New York University research center, however. There is one silver lining—research institutions are donating animals so that the work can continue.