At least 12 people are dead and 24 people missing after floodwaters swept through Georgia’s capital, Tbilisi, the New York Times reports. An unknown number of animals—including lions, wolves, bears, and at least one hippo—have escaped from a zoo and are roaming the city’s ruined streets.
According to the Times, local television reports that a special police unit has been dispatched to the area around the zoo to hunt down the animals. Some have been killed, including six wolves found on the grounds of a children’s hospital, though it is not yet known how many.
“If an animal attacked people, it’s one thing,” zoo director Zurab Gurielidze told Russian news agency Interfax. “I know that no order was issued to kill animals. Some policemen exceeded their authority.” Officials said that the dead animals were too aggressive to be captured. An escaped hippopotamus was reportedly subdued with a tranquilizer.
Interfax reported that, so far, zoo workers have identified 20 wolves, eight lions, and several tigers and jaguars as missing. Only three of 17 penguins survived the flooding. Some parts of the zoo are still underwater.
“It’s so surreal. Helicopters are circling overhead and they’ve warned people to stay indoors but not everyone’s doing that,” Paul Rimple, a journalist based in Tbilisi, told Al Jazeera. “People are walking around with their babies just a few blocks from where a wolf was shot in the south of the city. Apparently a jaguar was reported in the north.”
“Until somebody gets mauled or killed, no one’s going to panic.”
The Associated Press reports that three zoo workers have been killed, but it is not known whether they—or the other people who have died after the river burst its banks—died in animal attacks or other flood-related accidents.
“When Communists came to us in this country, they ordered that all crosses and bells of the churches be melted down and the money used to build the zoo,” head of the Georgian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Ilia II, reportedly told a Sunday Mass.
“The sin will not go without punishment. I am very sorry that Georgians fell so that a zoo was built at the expense of destroyed churches.”