Sunday 25 September 2016

Tbilisi flooding death toll rises

Published 15/06/2015 | 09:31

People follow a hippopotamus that has been shot with a tranquiliser dart after it escaped from a flooded zoo in Tbilisi, Georgia (AP)
People follow a hippopotamus that has been shot with a tranquiliser dart after it escaped from a flooded zoo in Tbilisi, Georgia (AP)
A rhinoceros walks inside the flooded zoo in Tbilisi, Georgia (AP)
An elephant stands behind bars inside the zoo in Tbilisi, Georgia (AP)
People clean a flooded area in Tbilisi, Georgia (AP)

The death toll from flooding around Tbilisi Zoo in Georgia has risen to 13, as the search continues for 10 people still missing as well as an undetermined number of potentially dangerous exotic animals.

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The Georgian interior ministry said rescuers found the body of an elderly man in his home on Monday afternoon.

Many others who were missing after the muddy floodwaters swamped parts of the former Soviet republic's capital turned up safe.

The zoo is still trying to determine what had happened to four lions, three tigers and one jaguar whose enclosures were flooded on Sunday, zoo spokeswoman Khatia Basilashvili said.

She said a number of other wild cats - four lions, three tigers and two jaguars - were killed either in the flood, or were shot by police while on the loose.

It is unclear how many more animals will be found dead once the waters receded and the clean-up is completed at the zoo, or how many were still wandering the hills around the Georgian capital.

The flooding also killed about 60 of 300 homeless dogs at a private shelter near the zoo, shelter staff said. Volunteers are working at the shelter to care for the remaining dogs and repair the kennels.

Heavy rain caused a landslide that blocked what is normally a pleasant stream in the hilly city, but as the floodwaters grew in strength, the fierce torrent broke through.

The raging waters swept through the zoo, gouged huge chunks out of roads and swamped numerous houses. The homes of about 40 families were destroyed.

As many as 24 people were reported missing late on Sunday, but by Monday afternoon all but 10 of them had been found, Georgian authorities said.

The Georgian government declared Monday a day off from work and school while the search for the missing and the clean-up work went ahead in Tbilisi, a city of 1.1 million people. The government has urged residents to avoid going near the zoo.

Prague Zoo, which suffered from the devastating flooding that hit the Czech capital in 2002 and again in 2013, is sending a team to Tbilisi.

"When we learned about the situation in Tbilisi Zoo, we started to work out how to help," Prague Zoo director Miroslav Bobek said.

"Based on our experience with the floods, we decided to create a team of curators to travel to Georgia's zoo to help take care of the animals."

None of the people who died were killed by the zoo animals that got loose, Tbilisi Zoo director Zurab Gurielidze said. Three zoo employees were among those who drowned.

One of the potentially most dangerous animals to escape, a hippopotamus, was tranquilised and returned to the zoo on Sunday.

A young white lion named Shumba, one of the zoo's most beloved attractions, was found shot in the head on zoo territory on Sunday, the zoo director said.

He demanded an investigation into the shootings of zoo animals. "If a predator attacked a person, then it's understandable, but there are cases that need looking into," Mr Gurielidze said.

Press Association

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