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Ratpocalypse

November 2, 2012

Rheanna Sand

 

I officially made it through my first hurricane! Seeing as how I live in the East River on a tiny island, I thought I would see giant waves crashing over the promenade, sweeping cars and children indiscriminately out to sea. Instead, I saw a couple of trees waving wildly in the gale-force winds, and leaves plastered against my window. Big whoop. Oh - but a stop sign did get ripped from its base and thrown across the street. So I guess it wasn't THAT tame.

 

Frankenstorm no stop! Frankenstorm SMASH!


Lower Manhattan and parts of Queens, however, did get hammered by floods, falling trees, and fires, and seven tunnels under the East River were deluged, shutting down subway lines to and from Brooklyn. It's obvious how all this affects the millions of people living in this metropolis, but what about the other population of millions? What about the rats?

Of the estimated 28 million (!) rats that scurry underneath the streets of New York City, as many as half could have been killed by the Frankenstorm - particularly young rats and those who can't run, climb, or swim fast enough to escape the rising waters. This leads to 1) a "dead rat soup" in the subway tunnels (as opposed to the normal "live rat soup"), and 2) a remaining population of stronger, more well-fed rats due to the amount of garbage and debris lying around. Way to go, Frankenstorm. That's just what we needed. A new population built from only the smartest and strongest rats, stampeding above ground to avoid the water. Who wants leptospirosis?! Get your hantavirus right here...

It's not just the free-range rats Frankenstorm has wiped out, it's the lab rats too. At least, those at the NYU Smilow Research Center. No one's smilow-ing now, I tells ya… not after losing what could amount to a decade of painstaking work for some scientists. These were rats bred to have very specific genetic mutations that mimic epilepsy, high blood pressure, diabetes, and other human ailments. Now they're gone. No back ups. Breeding these same strains will take years! The kicker is, the center was built to withstand storm surges 20% higher than those that had occurred historically. But it was no match for Frankenstorm.

Which makes me think, if we just started calling climate change "ratpocalypse," would skeptics pay more attention?

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