EcoBeat Staff – Tbilisi floods this past weekend caused at least a dozen deaths and extensive damage to the city’s infrastructure. June to August is generally the dry season in the capital, which is located 1,200 feet above sea level, making this type of weather event completely unexpected.
The rain managed to flatten the Tbilisi zoo, killing many of the animals and releasing the survivors onto the chaotic streets. Several lions, tigers, bears, a hippo, and a hyena were all said to have escaped immediately following the storm. Authorities managed to recapture the bears and hippo, while the tigers, lions and hyena remain at large in the city. As residents have come in contact with some of these escapees, The Guardian reported one man was mauled to death by a tiger. Reports vary as to whether the police or armed citizens have been taking matters in to their own hands by killing a number of the wild animals, to the dismay of animal rights activists.
While Georgians switch their focus to the clean up, questions are lingering as to how this type of unprecedented storm formed and why there were no warnings for the citizens of Tbilisi ahead of the floods. According to Al Jazeera, “The River Mtkvari is Tbilisi’s main water artery and it divides the city, but it was not that river that flooded. The River Vere, normally a small western tributary to the Mtkvari, suddenly had to cope with a major fall of rain, and couldn’t….With cloud bases at about 1,500 metres above the ground, one particular thunderstorm kept growing upwards until its top reached 11,000 metres. This was enough to produce vast amounts of rain, all falling over one small area.”
Essentially, it comes down to the fact that a large quantity of rain clouds managed to condense above and below one another (as opposed to side by side like most storms), creating a high density rain storm directly above a very small area. Tbilisi’s location in a valley made it that much easier for the rainwater to gather in a central location.
As for a warning system, an interview between Melissa Block (host) and Lawrence Sheets (Georgian journalist) on NPR seemed to indicate that this has simply never happened before so a contingency system was never designed or implemented. The ongoing 20 year conflict with Russia and multiple separatist conflicts throughout the region have also hardened the Georgian people to disastrous events. Some went so far as to say they doubted a warning system would have accomplished anything even it had existed.
As the climate continues to change and rain patterns shift around the globe, one can only hope this doesn’t become the new norm for this city of 1.5 million people.