Search continues for people, zoo animals after Georgian flooding

The Georgian government declared Monday a day off from work and school while the search for the missing and the cleanup work went ahead in Tbilisi.

Pavel Golovkin/AP
The footprints of an animal are seen in the mud in the grounds of a flooded zoo in Tbilisi, Georgia, Monday, June 15, 2015. Rescue workers in the Georgian capital are still searching for at least two dozen people and an undetermined number of potentially dangerous animals missing after severe flooding ravaged the city's zoo.

Many of the people missing after muddy floodwaters swamped the area around Tbilisi Zoo turned up safe on Monday, but the fate of 10 people and an undetermined number of potentially dangerous animals was still unknown.

The death toll rose to 13 from 12 when cleanup crews found the body of an elderly man in his home on Monday afternoon, the Interior Ministry said.

The zoo was 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 while on the loose, when some were shot by police.

But it was unclear how many more animals would be found dead once the waters receded and the cleanup was 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 were working at the shelter on Monday to care for the remaining dogs and repair the kennels.

Heavy rain early Sunday 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 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 cleanup 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, was sending a team to Tbilisi on Monday.

"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 tranquilized 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," Gurielidze said.

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