Dirty. Furry. Scrabbling. Hungry. Rats.
The horrifying incident happened on Saturday, Oct. 24, near a bus stop in the Bronx. Surveillance video shows Leonard Shoulders, 33, was waiting at the stop when the sinkhole opened up beneath him, dropping him 3.7 metres to 4.6 metres (12-15 feet) down into the rats’ lair.
“He went down feet first,” his mother, Cindy White, told NBC New York. “He was just standing and the sidewalk just — it was like a suction. Like a sinkhole. He just went down.”
Shoulders’ face scraped the concrete as he fell, and he hurt his leg and arm on the way down, his brother Greg White told CBS New York.
But that wasn’t the worst of it. Shoulders found himself alone in the dark with the teeming horde of vermin, unable to escape or call for help.
He ultimately spent 30 minutes in the chamber with the rats.
“Rats crawling on him. He can’t move. He just … it was so bad,” Greg White said.
“He didn’t want to yell because he was afraid there were going to be rats inside his mouth.”
Bystanders called for help but it took some time for firefighters to pull Shoulders out of the hole.
One witness said he looked in the hole and “the guy was only moving his hand.”
Video shows Shoulders being carted away on a stretcher after the ordeal. He was taken to hospital for treatment and was still there on Thursday, a hospital spokesperson told the New York Times.
“He’s traumatized,” his mother said. “He said he went straight down, and he was falling, falling, but the debris was falling and hitting him on the head.”
Shoulders told his mom that the rats were “so big” and “ridiculous” underground.
She added that anyone could have fallen where her son fell.
The family is considering legal action in the wake of the incident.
New York’s Department of Buildings says the underground chamber is a cellar next to a mostly empty five-storey building. Officials ordered the building to be vacated after the incident, and are looking into the cellar to see who owns it.
The building owner was also ordered to set up a fence around the hole and hire an engineer to inspect the stability of the vault underneath.
The incident sparked fears among many citizens in New York, where the city has long struggled to control its massive underground rat population.
Orkin recently dubbed New York the third-most rat-infested city in America, after first-place Chicago and second-place Los Angeles.