15 Jun 2015

Zoo animals roam free after Tbilisi flood

7:36 am on 15 June 2015

Flooding in the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, has killed at least 12 people, with officials warning people to stay indoors to avoid animals that have escaped from a zoo.

A hippopotamus walks along a flooded street in Tbilisi.

A hippopotamus walks along a flooded street in Tbilisi. Photo: AFP

The missing animals include tigers, lions, bears and wolves. Three of the dead people were found within the zoo.

A hippopotamus was cornered in one of the city's main squares and subdued with a tranquiliser gun.

Rescue workers are searching submerged homes to check for trapped residents. Dozens of people have been left homeless.

A day of mourning has been announced for Monday.

Tbilisi Zoo spokeswoman Mzia Sharashidze told InterPressNews agency that three bodies had been found in the zoo, including those of two employees.

She said the grounds had been turned into "a hellish whirlpool".

Ms Sharashidze said wolves, lions, tigers, jackals and jaguars had been shot dead by special forces or were missing.

Floodwater rose to the rooftops of enclosures at the zoo, drowning hundreds of animals. Many animals were swept out of their enclosures and escaped.

A bear was found clinging to an air-conditioning unit half way up one building, while a man discovered a hyena on his balcony.

The flooding began when heavy rains caused the River Vere - normally little more than a stream - to burst its banks.

Thousands of people have been left without water and electricity while others have had to be airlifted to safety.

Mayor Davit Narmania said the situation was "very grave".

Roads have been destroyed and small houses and cars swept away.

Coffins in a city cemetery have reportedly been washed out of the ground and left lying on the mud.

Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili has called on residents to stay indoors until all the animals have been found.

President Giorgi Margvelashvili has visited affected area and extended his condolences to relatives of the victims.

It remains unclear how many are animals missing. Helicopters are circling the city as part of a search and rescue operation.