On 3 August 2023, a landslide hit the Shovi resort in Georgia, East Europe, late afternoon.
The area, which holidaymakers and tourists admired for its beautiful mountain vistas, fresh air, and mineral springs, is about 140 kilometres (85 miles) northwest of the capital city of Tbilisi. Located 1520 meters above sea level, it was a popular summer and winter holiday destination from the 1960s to last Thursday when the disaster destroyed the entire territory.
"What was a bright sunny day in the paradise within a couple of minutes turned into a living hell for everyone in the area," recalls David Jeladze, the lucky survivor who bravely fought the mud waves during the four hellish hours as he devastatingly kept trying to save his 6-year-old niece Masho. A mud wave separated David and Masho from the rest of their family. The local volunteers found and helped the brave young man and his niece out of the mud after four hours after the landslide ruined the Shovi resort.
David's sister, Lana Jeladze, completed the tragic story of one Georgian family when she agreed to give an account of the disastrous afternoon to the local broadcaster. Injured and traumatised, the family of ten are back home now, feeling lucky to survive the disaster.
Six groups of geologists are intensively investigating the area at the moment. They said a torrential downpour, aggravated by recent erosion, triggered the landslide. The situation further worsened as the Buba Glacier melted while River Buba could not provide a smooth flow of extra water. Also, the riverbanks were rainwashed.
The road towards the Shovi resort, including two bridges, was destroyed within a few minutes. The mud covered the entire basin of the River Buba in the disaster area. Drone footage of the landslide shows tree trunks, giant stones, parts of the holiday cottages, and other debris spread over the lush green valley.
The metal construction of the Sunset Shovi hotel created a tiny soil island where people found shelter while they waited for the rescuers to reach them and evacuate safely. The deep mud ruined and buried all holiday cottages, where most victims lived.
Merab Gaprindashvili, the chief geology expert, said 5 million cubic metres of mud covered the area. He also told the Georgian media outlets that it was the first landslide in the River Buba basin since the permanent geology research started in the 1960s.
It was the most devastating tragedy in northwest Georgia after 29 April 1991, when the earthquake in Racha wiped out the entire village of Khakhieti, killing 40 people on the spot and leaving 100 thousand locals in Racha and Imereti without shelter.
The head of the Emergency Management Service at the Georgian Internal Affairs Ministry, Temur Mgebrishvili, confirmed the death of 17 people and noted that 18 people remained unaccounted for.
Despite terrible circumstances, 210 holidaymakers survived the landslide with minor injuries. The local volunteers reached most of them the same evening. On 3 August, the rescuers evacuated 70 and on 4 August, 140 people by the border police helicopters as the 4 to 5 meters deep mud made it impossible to drive through the disaster area.
Two Border Police helicopters, 400 rescuers and firefighters, patrol police units, volunteers who are experts in the local geography, several stuntmen, and the Georgian Army forces continue the search and rescue operation round the clock.
The Ministry of Interior of Georgia pledges the public to report any information about missing people from Shovi by calling the hotline: (+995) 598 913 089.
At the same time, the Georgian military engineers unit excavates the muddy territory to lay the road again to reach the naturally formed water reservoir about 7 kilometres upwards to the River Buba and avoid another disaster, which will be inevitable if it bursts and flows down uncontrolled. In two days they have laid two new roads, a 700-metre and a 1500-meter.
Meanwhile, the geologists monitor the headwater and drainage basin. “Climate change and global warming trigger such processes,” noted Irakli Megrelidze, Deputy Head of the Hydrometeorological Service of Georgia at the National Environmental Agency.
Georgian politicians, the heads of different countries, Pope Francis, the Apostolic Nuncio and the Dean of the diplomatic corps accredited to Georgia expressed their solidarity and extended condolences to the families of those who lost their lives. BRAMS Institute joined in sending their sympathy to the relatives of the victims and the people who remain undiscovered.
The government of Georgia declared 7 August 2023 the National Day of Mourning. The flag of Georgia will be at half-mast from 7 August midnight to 9 August midnight as 8 August commemorates another tragic date in the country's recent history, the 15th anniversary of the Georgian-Russian War 2008.