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Eight dead as tigers and lions roam Tbilisi after floods

TBILISI: Lions, tigers, bears and other wild animals escaped from a zoo in the Georgian capital Tbilisi Sunday, adding to chaos caused by flooding that killed at least eight people, officials said.

Police and soldiers were hunting down the animals, recapturing some and shooting others dead, while rescuers airlifted scores of people trapped by the floods.

Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili called on Tbilisi residents to stay indoors while the animals were still on the loose, describing the damage to the city’s infrastructure as “substantial” after the River Vere burst its banks after hours of torrential rain.

“So far, the confirmed death toll is eight people, but several people are still missing,” the interior ministry spokeswoman, Nino Giorgobiani, told AFP.

The floods turned the streets and squares into raging streams, sweeping away cars and flooding houses in the ex-Soviet state.

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

‘Hellish whirlpool’  “Search for animals continues, but a large part of the zoo is simply non-existent. It was turned into a hellish whirlpool,” she said.

 “Some 20 wolves, eight lions, white tigers, tigers, jackals, jaguars have either been shot dead by special forces or are missing. Only three out of our 17 penguins were saved.”

Rustavi 2 television broadcast footage showing a hippo swimming in the flooded Heroes’ Square in downtown Tbilisi as rescuers struggled to capture the animal.

Pictures circulating on social media showed a huge alligator wading past parked cars and a bear perched on an air-conditioning unit on the side of a building.

President Giorgi Margvelashvili sent his condolences to the victims’ families as he visited the affected area to observe the clean-up operation.

“The human losses that we have suffered are very hard to tolerate. I express my condolences to all the people who lost their relatives,” Margvelashvili told local TV.

Several main thoroughfares in the city of 1.2 million were covered with thick layer of mud and hundreds of fallen trees.

Mayor David Narmania called on Tbilisi residents to help take part in the clean-up operations that are under way throughout the city, with his office saying that dozens of families had been left without shelter and thousands without water and electricity.

Giorgobiani said rescuers were airlifting scores from flood-affected areas after the heavy rainfall also caused a landslide on the Tskneti-Betania road outside the capital.

In May 2012, five people, including a mother and her two children, were killed in flooding in Tbilisi after heavy rains.

The disaster exposed the ramshackle slums that are home to Tbilisi’s poorest and stand in stark contrast to the slick image of the city the country’s tourism advert portray. – AFP

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