At least 16 people were killed and dozens were missing after a landslide at a resort town in northwestern Georgia, officials said Saturday.
The landslide took place on Thursday in Shovi, a small resort town in Georgia’s mountainous northwest famed for its vast forests and mineral water springs.
“Sixteen bodies have been found in the disaster area and their identification is underway,” said Teimuraz Mghebrishvili, from the interior ministry.
Images showed rescue workers picking through debris partially buried by earth, while teams worked to shift the soil.
“An iron bridge over the river was organised, which will allow us to bring all the necessary equipment into the disaster area,” Mghebrishvili said.
More than 200 people were evacuated from the area, officials said Friday, as helicopters and rescue dogs were dispatched to help with the search efforts.
Shovi, located in a remote valley about 140 kilometres (87 miles) northwest of the capital Tbilisi, lies on the confluence of two rivers.
The Red Cross said bridges and roads in the area had been destroyed.
One survivor said she spent two hours half-buried in the landslide.
“We suddenly heard a dreadful rumble, and trees began to fall around us,” Mariam Berianidze, a 25-year-old student, told AFP.
She said in an earlier post on social media that she saw three people swept away before her eyes.
“We miraculously survived,” she told AFP.
“I still can’t believe how we made it through.”
Merab Gaprindashvili, a geologist from Georgia’s National Environmental Agency, said Thursday’s landslide was caused by a combination of factors and was unlikely to happen again.
“In particular, there are two glaciers in the headwaters of the river, which are intensively melting. This was accompanied by heavy rainfall,” he said in a televised interview.
Russia’s Patriarch Kirill expressed “his deepest condolences in connection to the tragedy” to the head of the Georgian Orthodox church, Patriarch Ilia II.
“I grieve together with the people of fraternal Iveria and hope that the search and rescue operations… will bring good news to everyone who is worried about the fate of their loved ones,” Kirill said.
Heavy rains and flooding are fairly common in Georgia, where steep slopes pose a risk of landslides.
In 2008, six people were killed by a landslide in the southern Black Sea region of Adjara.
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