GALVESTON — Some of the many unpleasant consequences of
Hurricane Ike may come with big teeth, twitchy noses and long tails.
Island sees more
rats after Hurricane Ike
By Laura Elder
Rat sightings are always common in port cities. But some island officials and
employers said storm surge a year ago likely flushed rodents from their usual
nesting places, while killing off snakes and other predator animals. That’s
adding up either to more rats or rats in new places.
When Ike struck, the city suspended routine rodent control efforts on rock
groins along the seawall. Those craggy surfaces are common nesting places for
Galveston’s Park Board of Trustees, which maintains beaches and oversees
tourism, won’t resume the program until crews complete repairs to the rock
groins, Lou Muller, executive director, said.
Most of the rat stories are anecdotal. Officials with the Galveston County
Health District, which regulates restaurants, and exterminators interviewed for
this story are not reporting spikes in the island’s rat population.
Muller said he hasn’t heard any complaints from tourists about rats since the
But the rat stories are making the rounds.
“It may or may not be accurate, but there seems to be an increase of the number
of rats since the storm,” Police Chief Charles Wiley said.
“Some have attributed it to the rise of water washing them all up on the island
from the rocks, others say it’s the dilapidated housing and conditions of houses
that have not been repaired.”
But in some places, there’s hard evidence of a rodent problem.
The post-Ike infestation is so severe on the fourth floor of the Rebecca Sealy
Hospital at the University of Texas Medical Branch, officials have asked
employees not to eat or leave food in certain areas.
Medical branch officials emphasize the rodent problem appears to be isolated to
the fourth floor of Rebecca Sealy, where there are no patients. About 125 people
are working in the Rebecca Sealy building, which before the storm also housed a
psychiatric hospital. The psychiatric hospital has not reopened. On the fourth
floor, about 80 employees work in research administrative services, managing
Infestation isn’t a problem at John Sealy Hospital, where patients are being
treated, officials said.
Medical branch officials said they learned of the problem at Rebecca Sealy more
than a month ago and have employed all sorts of rodent control measures,
including poison, traps and even high-frequency sound waves to repel the
“We have aggressive pest control in all of our buildings,” Rick McFee, assistant
vice president for operations and support services, said.
McFee said storm surge, which reached as high as 12 feet in some areas of the
island, swept away animals, including snakes that prey on rats.
Also, about 1 million square feet of buildings at the medical branch campus were
inundated with surge, including the first floor of the Rebecca Sealy building.
Rebecca Sealy was closed and sealed off longer than other campus buildings,
It’s likely other areas of the island are dealing with infestation, McFee said.
Medical branch officials said they’re getting a grip on the rodent problem at
Rebecca Sealy. They also understand the concern by some employees who spot rats
in their offices, spokeswoman Chris Comer said.
Safety is a priority and the medical branch, despite its best efforts, regrets
it has not been able to eradicate the rodents sooner, Comer said.
‘Fearful And Disorganized’
Many rats and mice drown during floods, and survivors are displaced, wandering
to new areas in search of shelter and food, according to the Pan American Health
“Fearful and disorganized, it takes time for them to regroup and reorganize
their social behavior, become familiar with their new environment, find safe
havens, locate food and water and memorize their movements,” according to
reports by the organization.
Colony building and reproduction only begin when the new ecosystem has
stabilized, meaning a rodent population can take six to 10 months to recover,
the group said.
As houses sat empty, garbage sat uncollected and weeds grew unmolested after
Hurricane Katrina in 2005, New Orleans saw a surge in all sorts of animals,
including wildlife that typically shuns urban places, according to reports.
Rats are attracted to the rock groins because anglers or tourists drop bait or
food in crevices, Muller said. All the construction along the seawall, where
crews are using heavy equipment and jack hammers to pulverize rocks and repair
the groins, likely has sent rodents in search of new places to nest, Muller
Muller said he wasn’t sure when the repairs would be complete and the rodent
control program would resume.
Public Information Officer
Galveston County Health District
(409) 938-2211 or (409) 392-0007