These were the apocalyptic scenes in Tblisi today where lions, bears, wolves and a hippo were among dozens of animals on the loose following heavy flooding – which church leaders say is a punishment from God for melting down the monastery’s bells.
The capital of Georgia has been placed on lock-down after the flooding destroyed enclosures at the city’s zoo – allowing a host of dangerous and scared animals to escape and roam the streets.
Residents in Tbilisi have been warned to stay indoors after more than 30 of the zoo’s residents broke out during heavy rain and wind. The flash floods have already killed up to 12 people including three workers who were employed at Tbilisi Zoo.
The zoo said one of the dead was Guliko Chitadze, a zookeeper who lost an arm in an attack by a tiger last month. The husband of zookeeper Ms Chitadze also died in the flooding.
Tbilisi Zoo spokeswoman Mzia Sharashidze said: ‘Search for animals continues, but a large part of the zoo is simply non-existent. It was turned into a hellish whirlpool.
‘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.’
Pictures from the Georgian capital have shown a large hippo wandering along a main street among stranded cars and in the city’s main square.
The zoo’s press service said that the hippo was eventually cornered in the main square before it was subdued with a tranquiliser gun.
Helicopters are now circling the city, which is home to around 1.1million people in a bid to track down all of the animals.
Heavy rains and wind hit Tbilisi last night, turning a normally small stream that runs through the hilly city into a surging river. The flooding also damaged dozens of houses.
City mayor David Narmania told journalists that eight people were known to have died and 10 others were missing.
It is estimated that the floods have caused £6.5million worth of damage.
Vice mayor of Tbilisi Irakly Lekvinadze added: ‘Dozens of families remain homeless as their houses were destroyed or damaged in the capital.’
acob Janjulia, a 21-year-old student who was among the residents volunteering to help rescuers, said parts of Tbilisi were ‘ravaged’.
He said: ‘It’s the duty of all citizens to help rescuers, to help the affected people.
Another Tbilisi resident, 46-year-old dentist Anna Korinteli, wept as she surveyed the scene.
‘Such a terrible tragedy, people died, many lost their homes. I can’t stop crying,’ she said.