12 People Dead as Freed Zoo Animals Roam Through Flooding in Tbilisi

Residents were warned to stay indoors to avoid the animals.

ByABC News
June 14, 2015, 1:09 PM

— -- At least 12 people are dead in severe flooding that surged through the Georgian capital of Tbilisi, and residents were being warned to stay indoors to avoid wild zoo animals set free by the flooding water.

Tigers, lions, bears, wolves, a wild pig and a hippo called Begi escaped their enclosures and were roaming through the streets of damaged capital.

Heavy rainfall caused the river Vere, which flows through Tbilisi, to flood and sweep away buildings and cars, and damage roads.

A special police unit was dispatched to the neighborhoods around the zoo to hunt for the roaming animals, while helicopters were used to spot them.

Some animals were re-captured, while others had to be killed by police not equipped with tranquilizers.

People help a hippopotamus escape from a flooded zoo in Tbilisi, Georgia, June 14, 2015.

Begi, the hippopotamus seen wandering in the street, was later tranquilized and taken back to a temporary makeshift zoo. A bear named Balu was seen clinging to a building to avoid the waters below.

"We're still not entirely sure how many animals were lost," Mzia Sharashidze, the spokeswoman for Tbilisi's zoo, told ABC News by phone. "It's a disaster. We lost three employees and more than half of our zoo's population."

"The only predator animals who survived the flooding are a white lion and leopards," she continued. "It's like a Noah's Ark, but unfortunately, in our case, not even half of the animals survived.

"We won't know the complete extent of the damage to the zoo until the flooding stops and we are given a chance to inspect and begin the cleanup process," she said.

The zoo has been part of Tbilisi's landscape since 1927, but it has never experienced a disaster such as this.