- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Capitol Hill residents have prided themselves in helping the displaced Eastern Market community recover from a three-alarm fire last month.

All, that is, except one group of unwelcome market dwellers: rats.

Neighbors say rodents from the notoriously infested market have scurried into the surrounding fields and houses.

One Independence Avenue Southeast resident told neighbors that he caught seven rats in less than 24 hours on his property, about a block away from the market. Three residents have complained about a colony of rats behind the William H. Rumsey Aquatic Center, on North Carolina Avenue Southeast, across the street from the market, said Charles Allen, chief of staff for D.C. Council member Tommy Wells, Ward 6 Democrat.

“It’s not a problem we can fix overnight,” Mr. Allen said. “The rats aren’t going to be gone with one visit. But the health inspector has proactively visited the area on a weekly basis, and we’ve gotten calls from those same three residents reporting a marked improvement.”

Residents and officials cannot prove that the increased number of rat sightings is the result of the April 30 fire that heavily damaged the 134-year-old market. But they say the problem will become worse during the repair process.

“I have heard from residents that rats are on the increase,” said Mary Wright, the community’s advisory neighborhood commissioner. “I can’t say if that’s because of the fire…. But it is a concern of residents that when construction begins on the basement, it’ll add to an already out-of-control [rat] problem that’s always been an ongoing issue.”

Leila Abrar, spokeswoman for the D.C. Department of Health, said reports about rats on Capitol Hill have not increased and that agency officials have inspected the area with Mr. Wells.

She also said health officials have checked the area periodically since the fire, including this week.

The market, a cultural and economic epicenter at Seventh Street and North Carolina Avenue Southeast, always has had its share of pests, residents said.

Nobody was injured in the fire, which officials suspect was caused by electrical problems. A temporary facility at Seventh and C streets Southeast is housing displaced vendors while crews repair the original market across the street.

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