Georgia Mourns Flood Victims as Police Hunt Escaped Zoo Animals

The Body of a Bear recovered
Workers pull the body of a bear from a building at a flooded zoo in Tbilisi on June 15. Photographer: Vano Shlamov/AFP/Getty Images

Georgia declared a day of mourning after at least 13 people died in severe floods that swept through the capital, Tbilisi, as the hunt continued for zoo animals that escaped during the disaster.

Police are “working around the clock to bring the situation back to normal” after lions, tigers, bears and wolves broke loose when gates at the zoo burst open in Sunday’s floods, Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili said in a statement on Monday. The disaster caused “irreparable damage to countless homes,” he said.

There were “eight lions in total and white tigers,” some of which were killed by emergency workers, Mzia Sharashidze, a spokeswoman for Tbilisi zoo, said in an interview on Monday. “No one has seen them face to face in the streets. They may be dead in the water or have been killed.”

Ten people remain unaccounted for, Nato Nijharadze, a spokeswoman for the Council of State Security and Crisis Management, said on Monday. Two crocodiles were found under rubble in the zoo, while other animals are still missing.

There are growing questions over the authorities’ response to the zoo crisis and whether animals were shot unnecessarily, Sharashidze said. Some animals were already tranquilized or in a traumatized condition and an inquiry is likely, she said.

The “destruction of Tbilisi zoo is another tragedy that should not be forgotten,” Garibashvili said. Georgia received “overwhelming” offers of support from the international community in response to the flood, he said.

Schools and businesses were closed as officials urged people to stay at home to ease traffic jams on major roads paralysed by flood damage, Nijharadze said. The Interior Ministry has asked people to remain indoors to avoid encountering the wild animals.

The city dog shelter saved as many as 100 dogs after the deadly floods wiped out a home providing refuge for at least 500 dogs as well as abandoned circus bears and other animals.

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