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Georgian Patriarch Blames Deadly Flooding On Communists' Sins

Georgian Patriarch Ilia II leads a midnight Christmas service at the Holy Trinity Cathedral in Tbilisi in January 2013.
Georgian Patriarch Ilia II leads a midnight Christmas service at the Holy Trinity Cathedral in Tbilisi in January 2013.

The head of Georgia's Orthodox Church has an explanation for the heavy flooding that devastated Tbilisi on June 14, killing at least 13 people and leaving escaped zoo animals to fend for themselves.

According to Patriarch Ilia II, the devastation is punishment for the communist persecution of Christians and the origins of the zoo itself.

"When the communist regime was established in Georgia, it ordered that all the crosses and bells in churches be melted down and the money used to build the zoo," InterPressNews and Gruzia Online quoted Ilia as saying during a June 14 sermon.

The patriarch concluded that the deaths of people and animals were "the result" of the communist rulers' actions.

Ilia suggested that the zoo be vacated and rebuilt in a different location, because the current zoo "was founded on sin."

The Tbilisi Zoo, which was established in 1927, was almost entirely destroyed by the flooding. Three zoo employees -- including a married couple that lived on the zoo grounds -- were among those reported killed in the disaster.

Scores of animals also died as a result of the flooding. Most are believed to have drowned, but an undetermined number -- including a hippopotamus, tigers, bears, and wolves -- escaped from their enclosures and into the city streets. Some were rounded up and returned to the zoo, but others were shot and killed by police.

PHOTO GALLERY: Search and rescue operations were continuing in the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, a day after deadly floods swept through the city.

Zoo director Zura Gurelidze demanded an explanation for the killing of zoo animals, including a rare white lion cub called Shumba, one the zoo's favorite attractions.

Police shot and killed six wolves near a children's hospital, while the hippopotamus was tranquilized and taken alive while walking past shops.

Several potentially dangerous animals remain unaccounted for, leaving officials to urge city residents to remain indoors as a search continues.

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    Farangis Najibullah

    Farangis Najibullah is a senior correspondent for RFE/RL who has reported on a wide range of topics from Central Asia, including the impact of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on the region. She has extensively covered efforts by Central Asian states to repatriate and reintegrate their citizens who joined Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.

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