Tbilisi Flood Fiasco: Who’s to Blame?

A Georgia Today analysis by Joseph Larsen & Beqa Kirtava 

Saturday evening exposed Tbilisi to a torrential downpour. 

While many residents sat back and rode out the storm in comfort, others were less lucky. Eight people were killed from the flood or resulting damage, including three zoo workers.

Dozens of families had their homes destroyed in the downpour, and Deputy Mayor Irakli Lekvinadze told reporters that the damage is estimated at $9.4 million.

Zoo Animals Escape

Particular attention has been paid to damage suffered by the Tbilisi Zoo, where three employees were killed. One of them was Guliko Chitadze who miraculously survived a tiger attack several weeks ago. Numerous animals, including a hippopotamus, 6 lions, 6 tigers, 7 bears, and 13 wolves escaped from the zoo. The hippopotamus has since been captured and subdued, according to reports. Information has also spread regarding the elimination of several animals, including numerous wolves.

According to Tbilisi Zoo’s Administration, as the entire location is covered with water and mud, it is as yet impossible to determine the exact number of animals who survived the flood.

While no cases of injury related to the zoo escape have been reported, the Ministry of Internal Affairs has advised people to stay in their homes until the remaining animals have been captured.

Residents Blame Poor Infrastructure

The flood is Tbilisi’s worst in recent memory. While an investigation will take time, immediate popular reactions have been critical.

Blame has been put on construction of the Vake-Saburtalo highway. “Many people said that the new road, the Vake-Saburtalo highway, was a bad idea,” commented local resident Gvantsa Koberidze. “The new road doesn’t have a proper drainage system.”

A number of Facebookers criticized the city’s infrastructure and planning for the deaths and damage. Said one Tbilisi resident:

“I think the constant heavy rains are to blame here. Yes, I admit that they had to plan and execute (road) construction works much better to avoid such a tragedy, but no one really thought it could happen.”

Another voice quipped that: “I'd like to know why they didn't move the zoo when they built the road, or when Tbilisi flooded in the past... Someone has to start some serious planning here!”

One member criticized the zoo’s management for the escaped animals:

“You need to be an absolute idiot to build and maintain a zoo containing dozens of wild, dangerous animals, which is not able to sustain a couple of hours of heavy rain.”

The Overflow of River Vere Was NOT Unexpected

The talks about the dangers of River Vere date back several years to the time the previous government decided to cut a new road connecting Heroes Square to Vake-Saburtalo Street.

Well-known urbanist, Niko Kakhetelidze, spoke out about the aforementioned threats on Maestro TV's "Us", in 2012. "The new street which was cut connecting Heroes Square to Vake-Saburtalo Str. resulted in putting the River Vere in a kind of a sarcophagus. This is unacceptable, as one day Vere may overflow and sweep up the whole area surrounding Heroes Square. It took us not more than 30 minutes [of seeing the plan] to realize the threat," he said. And it’s pretty clear he was right.

Why Hasn’t Tbilisi Zoo Moved to its Newly-Owned Lands?

According to the Tbilisi Zoo Administration, the reason for the delayed movement is the extremely high cost. The zoo’s representatives stated on Facebook that moving to a new location costs €100-500 million, which simply cannot be allocated at this time.

Keep updated on www.georgiatoday.ge and get the full analysis in Friday’s Georgia Today newspaper.

14 June 2015 15:39