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Experts try to get the bugs out

Holding her thumb and index finger nearly three inches apart, Vera Crochet demonstrated the size of the cockroaches that crawl over the kitchen table of her Ponce de Leon apartment. "Me and my kids find them in the freezer, the toaster, even in my blow dryer," she said. "It's disgusting. We've got a really bad problem, and we've got to do something about it."

As temperatures heat up and the warm summer rains drive cockroaches by the millions into houses and apartments, many area residents will experience problems with the widely loathed insects, said Maude Christian-Meier, a research scientist at the Raid Center for Insect Control.

"Even the nicest homes may experience problems in this climate," she said. "But particularly in areas like Ponce de Leon, where the buildings are old and people live right next to each other, the infestations can get really bad."

On Tuesday, Christian-Meier spent the day at Ponce de Leon speaking with residents about their pest control problems. Traveling in a mini-van, she and two other experts have visited three of Tampa's largest public housing complexes in the past week. They will visit several other sites over the next few days.

The purpose of the tour, Christian-Meier said, is to educate visitors by showing them live specimens of the small German cockroach and the larger American cockroach, and discussing ways that individuals can eliminate different degrees of infestation.

The Tampa Housing Authority sprays its properties once or twice a month, but substantial cockroach problems persist, said Randy Crowder, housing manager at Ponce de Leon. Last year, roach control costs totaled $65,000, said Lillian Stringer, spokeswoman for the Housing Authority.

Crowder attributed the problems to close living quarters, underground breeding sites beneath the complexes and large trees in the area that harbor the insects. Residents should try to control their own pests in addition to the semi-monthly sprayings, he said.

"I do hear some real horror stories, and I usually get 10 or 15 roach complaints a week," he said. "But I think some of them are exaggerating when they tell me about roaches doing the backstroke in their bathtub."

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