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Pests: Bugging Out in Brooklyn

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Rose Unes, the tenant of a century-old brownstone in Brooklyn’s Carroll Gardens, found a special surprise when she returned home from a brief trip last week. “My kitchen floor was littered with white things,” she recalls. “I thought they were maggots, but I swept them into a pile, and some started flying.” They were swarming termites, every home owner’s nightmare. Horrified, she mentioned it to her neighbors on Third Place, between Clinton and Henry Streets, many of whom had experienced similar encounters. The block, it became clear, was infested.

It wasn’t long before the finger-pointing began. Some residents speculated that the bugs had come from the South; others blamed neighbors who have woodpiles out back.

As it turns out, however, the mysterious scourge is just one more thing to blame on El Niño: Experts say that the unusually warm winter may have left the entire city poised on the kind of entomological disaster that Carroll Gardens is now suffering. “We’ve had spring start two or three times this year,” explains Ed DeFreitas, owner of Empire Pest Control. “What we’re seeing is termite colonies thinking it’s time to send out their seeds, triggered by humidity, light, and heat.”

Buildings with thick concrete foundations -- including most Manhattan apartments -- are relatively safe, but row houses or brownstones are at risk. As residents of Third Place put on a brave front, a Brooklyn-based Orkin exterminator attempts some consolation. “I know Long Island has a termite problem,” he offers: “There it’s like a river of termites.”


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