BETHLEHEM, Pa. -

A woman could hardly hold back her tears as she pleaded with Bethlehem City Council Tuesday night for help with a rat problem she says is being caused by a vacant home in her neighborhood.

Members of council listened with concern and disbelief and several people attending the council meeting made rude remarks about city staffers as Judith Koch, of 113 East Garrison St., told her story.

Koch, a geometry teacher at Easton Area High School, said she contacted the city health bureau and the fire inspector, "but I'm getting nowhere."

She said she's had to deal with nine rats in the last year.

The problem has become so bad, she added, that rats have stolen her dogs' toys and used them to build their nests; that she had to kill a rodent she found hiding in a bucket with a baseball bat, and has to listen to them scurrying across the floor of her home and inside the walls.

"They're chewing constantly. I can hear them," she told council. "Can I get someone, anyone to listen?"

Koch said the exterminating company she uses, Seitz Bros. Pest Control, told her the only way to bring the problem under control is "to get all of my neighbors involved."

Emily Frye, of 115 East Garrison St., backed up Koch's account, and said the rats pose a danger to her 1-year-old son, who crawls on the floor. "My pediatrician tells me I should move out for the sake of my son's health, but I can't afford to," she said. "And my cats are getting worms and fleas."

Both Koch and Frye said a vacant nearby home owned by an elderly woman in a nursing home appears to be the source of the problem.

After the council meeting, Koch and Frye met with Mayor John Callahan and Joe Kelly, the city's director of community and economic development, and were told that the city tried to get a warrant in January to search the vacant home, but a district justice turned them down.

They both promised the women that they would continue trying to remedy the situation.

Paulette Moll, of 710 Second Ave., also asked council for help, saying she has video documentation that there are 18 people living in the home next to hers.

She said she has turned over to authorities the footage from the cameras she installed to protect her home, but nothing has been done.

She said she has contacted the mayor's office and the police chief, but her calls have not been returned.

Moll also recited the names of the 18 people living in the home.