Videographer Rafael Garcia looked through the windows of a KFC-Taco Bell restaurant in Greenwich Village on Friday morning and saw 30 to 50 rats clambering over chairs, tables and children’s highchairs.
“I looked in the window and seen these rats,” said Garcia, 52. “There were enough creatures in that room that they could have devoured a human being.... It was a frenzy. They were going up walls. They were jumping up and down.”
Garcia, sent by a TV news producer to check on the tip of a predawn commotion outside the 6th Avenue restaurant, scrambled back to his van for his gear.
As he stood among the 20 or so people gathered outside and filmed the scene, the rats came to the front window as if playing to his camera, Garcia said.
“They seemed to be enchanted by the light,” the independent news videographer said.
Within a few hours, Garcia’s footage was being played on morning television news shows and the Internet. Before night, the rat story was seen worldwide.
The restaurant, which the city Health Department cited in December for several violations including “evidence of rats,” had been inspected Thursday, and was inspected again Friday after the rats were spotted, spokeswoman Sara Markt said.
Inspectors on Friday found many violations, including rodent droppings, holes in the floor and ceiling, stagnant water on the floor and lack of heat, the department said. Before it can reopen, the restaurant must devise a plan detailing how it will correct violations and pass a complete reinspection.
Inspector Carol Feracho said the problem originated in a portion of the building not occupied by the restaurant. “The infestation is in the restaurant,” Feracho said. “However, it is coming from the building.”
KFC, Taco Bell and their parent company, Louisville, Ky.-based Yum Brands, said construction in the basement created openings for the vermin and “temporarily escalated the situation.”
“Nothing is more important to us than the health and safety of our customers,” the company said in a statement. “This is completely unacceptable and is an absolute violation of our high standards.”
Neighbors said they knew there was a problem.
Wilson Salas, 40, superintendent of a Cornelia Street high-rise next door to the restaurant, said he had reported problems to the city about trash and vermin. “This turned my stomach,” he said of the video.
Margo McGuire, 50, said the rats were voracious.
“They’re fearless. They think they have eminent domain. It’s astounding,” said McGuire, who lives in the high-rise. “During the summer, the rats would come outside and do their own version of ‘Chorus Line.’ ”
Garcia, meanwhile, celebrated his good fortune. He was selling the rat footage for $300 a pop, and had made more than $4,000 by Friday night.
“It’s exciting to me to do that kind of business. Exhilarating,” Garcia said. “And there are no dead people involved.”