Society

Did Sandy Drown New York City Subway Rats?

| by Denise A Justin

An estimated 28 to 32 million rat inhabit the dank,dark subway tunnels of New York City, although there is no official census. Officials logically feared, and many predicted, that, in  the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy,  the streets of the city would be overrun with escaping subterranean rodents. 

"New York City's rats have arrived. In the wake of superstorm Sandy, residents of the city are soon likely to see them by the thousands...," reported National Geographic News.

But, so far, that hasn’t happened and experts are saying it is likely, probably because the water rushed in so fast, that despite being strong swimmers, the rats had no time to escape and just died in the tunnels.

Some believe that many of the rats may have burrowed below the seeping waters and just waited out the storm

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Herwig Leirs, a rodentologist at the University of Antwerp in Belgium predicted, "Most of the rats that are living there will actually drown.” Leirs told LiveScience that, while rats can swim or float for up to four days, as they seek higher ground they may get trapped without air in small pipes and crannies and many will be pushed into grates and will be stuck.  He added that the rushing water would also make survival difficult and many would not be able to swim against the current.

Baby rats will perish unless their mothers can carry them to safety, Robert M. Corrigan, a New York rodentologist wrote to LiveScience. “Even those who survive the flooding will be doomed unless they can find a safe shelter with lots of food,” he said.

WILL SURVIVING RATS AND DEAD RAT CORPSES POSE A HEALTH THREAT ?

 The risk of disease to humans depends on how quickly water evaporates above ground and how long it takes for subway crews to clean out the tunnels, according to officials. Since the floodwaters themselves carried tons of garbage directly into the rodent-infested underground tunnels, if the water is pumped out before they drown, many of the rats will remain underground and thrive. 

However, if the water lingers, the strongest rats will survive the struggle to get  above ground. There they will find the streets filled with debris and all the garbage they need, and they will also be able to climb to safety from any ensuing storms.

Repair crews may encounter tons of dead rats--a gory experience--when reentering the tunnels:, Leirs said.

A large invasion of the street of New York by rats forced out of the tunnels or by the collection of dead rat corpses could result in a rise in infectious urban-rodent diseases, including hantavirus, typhus, leptospirosis salmonella, or even plague.

WHAT HAS HAPPENED SINCE THE PREDICTIONS?

Sam Miller, assistant commissioner for public affairs at the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene told New York Magazine that they have not seen an increase in street rats. Of course, with a population of 30 million, how do you calculate an increase?

For a visual review, here’s what One-Minute-News says:

Sources:

http://www.livescience.com/24415-hurricane-sandy-nyc-subway-rats.html?cid=dlvr.it

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2012/10/121031-hurricane-sandy-new-york-rats-flooded-subway-weather-nation-science/