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Clean-Up Continues At Abandoned Queens Lot Blamed As Breeding Ground For West Nile-Carrying Mosquitos

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Giuseppe Totino, 86, of Whitestone, was hospitalized for two weeks with West Nile virus (credit: Mona Rivera/1010 WINS)

Giuseppe Totino, 86, of Whitestone, was hospitalized for two weeks with West Nile virus (credit: Mona Rivera/1010 WINS)

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – A big cleanup is underway at an overgrown lot next door to the Whitestone, Queens home of an elderly man who was infected with West Nile virus.

Giuseppe Totino, 86,  was hospitalized for nearly two weeks and diagnosed earlier this month with West Nile, said his family physician, Dr. Joseph Mollura, of Whitestone.

Neighbors and family members said they were convinced Totino got the potentially deadly virus from the property next door.  It has been abandoned for more than five years — home to only feral cats, rodents, overgrown shrubbery and bugs.

EXTRA: Totino’s Lab Results Confirming West Nile Virus

Totino’s son Dominic told WINS that Saturday’s work on the property should help.

“My mom wants to look out her kitchen window and not see weeds up against the house, and we’ve had situations with raccoons and possums and escalation of insects in our backyard. It’s prevalent. Year after year after year ‘s gets to be more and more, so hopefully our quality of life around here will improve a little,” he said.

Dominick got the call from the doctor Wednesday that his father tested positive for West Nile. He said he immediately thought the mosquito must have come from the “jungle next door.”

Friday evening, CBS 2 was able to track down property owner Pedro Somoza, who took full responsibility for the property.

“I’m going to clean the property,” he said, “and if I have to say it’s my fault, it’s my fault.”

Somoza also went to the Totino’s home to apologize for the situation.

“Tomorrow, somebody’s going to come — somebody with me to clear the yard,” he said. “I’m so sorry for your daddy.”

“I cannot for the past few years sit in my backyard comfortably without being eaten alive by mosquitos,” Totino’s daughter, Diana, told CBS 2’s Hazel Sanchez.

Louis D’Lorenzo, 87, who lives on the other side of the blighted property said he’s now afraid of getting West Nile.

“It’s scary,” he said. “Something should be done.”

After being contacted by 1010 WINS, the New York Department of Health sent a health inspector to the site and said “there was no evidence of standing water at the time of the inspection.”

Susan Craig, a Health Department spokeswoman, said “high vegetation/weeds was observed throughout the front and rear yard of the vacant property.”

“The property will be referred to the Department’s Pest Control Services for further action,” the statement read.

Despite the comments from the Health Department, neighbors have said there could be standing water inside the property, stemming from rain water getting in through broken windows.  They complain that many people have come to the site, looked around and left.

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