Devastating flooding in Tbilisi, the Georgian capital, has killed at least 12 people. An uncertain number remain missing, while several dozen were admitted to hospital suffering minor-to-moderate injuries. Thousands more have been left without water and electricity. The floods have effectively destroyed the Tbilisi Zoo, with three bodies – including those of two employees – found within the zoo grounds, and a majority of its animals either dying in the flooding or shot dead by special forces having escaped. With some animals still on the loose, on Sunday Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili warned residents of the city – with a population of over 1.1 million – to stay indoors.
The flooding was caused by extended heavy rainfall across Saturday night. In the early hours of Sunday morning, the Vere river burst its banks. The Vere, which runs through Tbilisi’s Vake and Saburtalo neighbourhoods, is usually little more than a stream. With a total length of 45 km, it is a tributary of the Kura River, which then flows east, south of the Greater Caucasus Mountains and into the Caspian Sea. However the Vere experiences periodic flash flooding, which previously overwhelmed the Tbilisi Zoo in 1972.
Homes, roads and vehicles were destroyed, and many of those affected had to be airlifted to safety. Among the employees of the zoo to have been killed was 56-year-old Guliko Chitadze, who lost an arm only last month after an attack by one of the zoo’s tigers. She reportedly lived on the grounds of the zoo with her husband, who has also died. Tbilisi Zoo was established in 1927; and over recent years there had been talk of relocation to the city’s outskirts.
Tigers, lions, bears, and wolves remained among the missing animals. Meanwhile a hippopotamus was subdued with a tranquiliser gun having been cornered in one of Tbilisi’s central squares; a bear was found atop an apartment-block air-conditioning unit; and a hyena was shot in the vicinity of Tbilisi State University. Rescue workers continue to search flooded homes, and helicopters and members of the armed forces are assisting with the operation. Tbilisi’s deputy mayor, Irakly Lekvinadze, has estimated the damage caused at $10 million. A day of mourning has been announced for Monday.
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All images courtesy of Beso Gulashvili/EPA/Georgia Prime Minister’s Press Service