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from The Boston Globe Online

    Rats invade Los Angeles
Tue, July 23, 2002 9:00 a.m. ET

By the Associated Press, Sandy Yang

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- A record drought has affluent Los Angeles residents smelling a rat.

Lots of them.

Dry conditions have driven rats from their usually well-hidden nests to forage for water and food in the wealthy neighborhoods of Beverly Hills, Santa Monica and Pacific Palisades.

"I was terrified," Angelita Llerena said of her second encounter with rats in the 27 years she has lived in Pacific Palisades, where the median home price exceeds $800,000.

The unwelcome guests nibbled her African violets and dirtied the gleaming white tiles of her kitchen floor. And they seemed to feel right at home.

"That's a high place to be if you're a rat," said Frank Hall, Los Angeles County's chief of vector management, which deals with pest problems.

"Rats are attracted to the trees, fruits not picked off the ground, the snails and the swimming pools for the water. They want to take a little drink in the sunshine."

The nocturnal critters aren't newcomers to these neighborhoods. Generally, though, they stay hidden in dense foliage.

But this year, the drought is cutting into their usual water and food sources. That's forcing the rats to make daring forays into well-manicured backyards and trendy restaurants in their effort to survive.

Six restaurants along the Santa Monica Promenade have temporarily closed in recent weeks because of rat infestations -- an unusually high number in this popular dining and entertainment district, health officials said.

Those officials and private exterminators have also reported increased calls from residents about rats and other vermin.

"When there's a drought, there are more rodents because they can't find water -- this can run all summer," said Tim Duplantier, office manager of Good Guys Exterminators in Santa Monica, which has seen a 20 percent jump in rodent jobs this summer.

Llerena quickly called the county health department about her problem. But she was forced to rethink her principles.

"I don't know how environmentally conscientious you are, but you can bait the area around your house," county inspector Pedro Gutierrez told her during a recent inspection.

"We're very conscientious," Llerena said. "But we hate rats."

While the so-called roof rats don't usually bite unless cornered, they can carry fleas that cause murine typhus -- a flulike disease marked by headaches and a rash.

Copyright 2002 Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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