Occupy DC: Rats joining a sinking ship?

Most of the Occupy protests have dwindled out or have been cleared by police, but Occupy DC is still going strong in two different campsites. Or is it? According to the Washington Post, the plethora of tents hides a dearth of occupation, thanks to the cold weather:

As temperatures dipped into the teens, the city’s two Occupy encampments began to resemble ghost towns, with protesters fleeing to bunk on friends’ couches or in church shelters. Tent covers surrendered themselves to wind gusts, only to reveal no one snuggled underneath them. …

The dwindling number of residents who stayed behind zipped up their tents, swallowed vitamins and swaddled themselves in clothing to battle the elements. Medics in both camps said Wednesday that they were passing out Vitamin C tablets and Theraflu but had no official cases of hypothermia — yet. Good Samaritans streamed by to drop off blankets, and a collection was started to raise money to buy propane for heaters.

Meantime, there were increased sightings of rats nestling under pallets strewn with sleeping bags, and Occupiers in McPherson Square voluntarily shuttered their kitchen for 48 hours for what they said was a monthly cleaning. Protesters were eating donated food brought in by supporters.

Mahlori Isaacs, a spokeswoman for the D.C. Department of Health, said health officers had been closely monitoring the camps for health and safety violations throughout the week, passing out literature on hypothermia and tips to avoid the flu and other illnesses.

That’s not the only issue worrying health inspectors in the nation’s capital.  While the Occupiers have become scarce, another group has begun occupying the Occupation, and neighboring residents and businesses are not happy with the new crop of squatters:

Rats Infest Occupy DC Camp, Food Tent Shut Down After Health Inspection: MyFoxDC.com

One of the two hot food tents at the Occupy D.C. sites has closed down after a visit Tuesday by inspectors from the D.C. Department of Health. Protestors at McPherson Square voluntarily shut down their kitchen after the visit.

People who work in the neighborhood of McPherson Square have complained about the unclean condition of the federal parkland there since protestors erected a small tent city in the fall.

“You can’t even cross the [park because of] the smell,” declared David Abecassis, who works in a hair salon which overlooks the park.

Even some of the demonstrators are concerned about the apparent increase in the rat population.

“This is rat-infected [sic],” admitted demonstrator Raffael Cruz. “There are rats coming through here like crazy.”

Wait — rats in DC?  Why, I thought the White House said that Congress wasn’t in session!  (Yeah, easy joke, but I just couldn’t resist.)

If you’re wondering why DC authorities don’t declare the protest sites a public-health hazard, which they clearly have become, it’s because they don’t have the authority.  The protests are taking place on federal land, which means that the National Park Service has jurisdiction — and so far, they’re not inclined to take action.  If the Post’s report is accurate, it should be a lot easier now that the Occupy DC sites have become more like Potemkin villages than anything else.

John Hinderaker notes that a recent Rasmussen poll shows that the majority of Americans think the Occupy protests are a “public nuisance.”  I think a rat infestation is likely to increase that perception considerably.