Chris Panza crouches inside his children's play room where traps...

Chris Panza crouches inside his children's play room where traps are laid in his home in Bellmore infested with rats. (Feb. 21, 2013) Credit: Steve Pfost

Rats have forced a Bellmore family out of their house on a block flooded by superstorm Sandy.

Thursday, contractors found burrows and gnawed wall holes from the attic to the lower level playroom, and will begin ripping out walls early next week to ferret out the invaders and make them easier to exterminate.

"I'm shocked," said Chris Panza, 35, a salesman at a corrugated box company, who has been staying with wife, Amy, 35, and their two young sons at his parents' home in Lynbrook for the past two weeks while exterminators tried unsuccessfully to trap the rodents in their Judith Drive high ranch.

"My biggest fear is that we do all this and we don't get them all," he said.

He has asked his flood insurance company to reopen his claim, which was closed after the home's mostly exterior damage had been repaired, and hopes to get some coverage for the costs. Neither his flood insurer nor his extermination company could be reached for comment. While no animals have yet been captured or killed, Panza said his exterminator told him there was no doubt that they were rats; it is estimated that there could be as many as seven to 14 rodents in the house.

While some neighborhoods near flooded areas in New York City have reportedly seen a spike in rat infestations, the same situation isn't apparent on Long Island.

"If there was an unusual amount of calls on rat activity, we would have known about it," Nassau County Health Department spokeswoman Carolyn McCummings said.

One exterminator, David Quinn, owner of DQ Pest Control in Freeport, said he'd had over a dozen cases of rat-infested homes in Lido Beach after the storm, as well as several others along the South Shore.

"Of course it is a result of the storm," he said. The rats' "normal habitat is burrows in the ground, and when they are flooded, they have to find a place to go."

The Panzas' contractors, Dave Hall and Anthony Pomponio of Relia-bilt of Patchogue, said they believe the rodents might have entered through a dislodged trap door over a sewer pipe, then gnawed holes in the walls leading into the playroom and the home's upper levels.

On Feb. 8, Amy Panza noticed balls of cushion stuffing on the seat of their den sofa, and tooth and claw marks on the wood. Soon the family noticed empty bags of potato chips and candy, little piles of debris near gnawed wall holes and paw prints.

"You get so grossed out you don't know what to do," she said.

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