Georgia U.S.S.R. April 1991


60 miles northwest of Tbilisi.

Magnitude & Depth

7.2M & 17.0 kilometers

Team Deployment

14 member rescue team

An earthquake struck at 12:13 p.m. (5:13 a.m. EDT) in north-central Georgia among sparsely populated towns in the Caucasus Mountains.

It measured 7.2 on the Richter scale, according to the Soviet Union’s Central Seismic Station.

The epicenter was near Dzhava, a town of 11,000 about 60 miles northwest of the Georgian capital of Tbilisi.


An aftershock as powerful as the initial quake struck the region at 9:33 p.m. (2:33 p.m. EDT). U.S. Geological Survey said the aftershock registered 6.2 on the Richter scale. In a report from Dzhava, Soviet television showed collapsed buildings and others with gaping holes. Rescuers standing on top of a mound of rubble dug frantically with their hands to remove large stones in search of further victims. The independent Interfax news agency said a kindergarten, a high school, a hospital and a printing house were among buildings destroyed there, in addition to 30 homes.


At the request of the President of the Republic of Georgia, a team of 14 members of I.R.C. were deployed to the U.S.S.R. to assist in rescue and relief work in Georgia, following an earthquake on the 29th April. The earthquake measured 7.2 M and it was understood from information received that damage was extensive.

Damage to a railway station

Damage to flats

Damage to flats

Damage to house roof
Arriving in Moscow at 1500 local time (+2 hours U.K.), members of the team were met by officials of the Permanent Representation of Georgian Republic for internal affairs. Visas were issued within an hour of arrival for 14 days duration. Following a 45 minute drive around Moscow we arrived at the internal flight airport (Jmukovo) for a flight to Tbilisi, the capital city of Georgia, arriving at 2315 (+3 hours U.K.) where we were installed in the Tbilisi International Hotel after making arrangements to be collected at 0600 the Friday morning for the trip to Cabache province.

At 0830 we found a Georgian official, who insisted we had breakfast before travelling to meet with the Minister of Police for a briefing.
At 1130 the team were taken by coach with police escort (Lada) to Cabache, a large town in the Sachkhere province. This town had suffered some minor damage to 2 storey houses and medium damage to a few public buildings, again of the small 2 storey type. The damage consisted of displaced roofs and damage to exterior walls.

We were taken to a military compound to meet with the local co-ordinator, a Georgian mountain rescue team member, who advised us that the rescue role was finished in this area and that we should move to Ambrolauri, an area near Oni where there were several villages to be searched. With him were some French medics who stated that there was no shortage of food or blankets, and that the helicopters had been grounded because of overcast weather.
On the way to Ambrolauri we were to stop at Kutaisi and get information from the Prefect of the region.

On arrival at Kutaisi at 1900 we were told to unload our equipment into a hotel as we would be staying there for the night and that our bus had to return to Tbilisi and more transport would be arranged in the morning.
At this stage the two interpreters disappeared to return a short time later with another mountain rescue co-ordinator, who was in charge of all rescue and medical relief in Georgia, he asked us to return to Cabache, to an area where search dogs had located persons buried beneath a landslide and he required confirmation if these persons were alive.

It was on the road back to Cabache at 2255 that the team came across a road traffic accident. A farm tractor with three men on board had run off the road and down a steep hill side approximately 30 metres. Members of IRC quickly established that one passenger was dead, one walking wounded and one still in the cab of the tractor with head and chest injuries. A halogen light was set up with the generator fuelled with petrol from the bus fuel tank. The injured man was removed from the tractor, placed on the canvas stretcher and given medical treatment by Graham Payne and Sue Shirley. The man was carried back up to the roadway and a short period later placed in an ambulance and transported to hospital. Throughout this 15 minute period the team worked efficiently without any instructions being given.
From that moment on, the attitude of the translators changed and we were told that without our help, the man would have stayed in the tractor for hours with no help and slowly died.

At 0030 on the 4th we arrived at Cabache and had a meeting with the Prefect for permission to work in his area. Plans were made for a few hours sleep and an early start searching the landslide area at first light. By 0530 these plans had been altered, reliable information was received that the landslide was up to 30 metres deep and consisted of top soil and water. It was then decided to travel with the Georgian co-ordinator and French medics to the town of Dzhava. This town had been mentioned previously by language students from Moscow assisting in the rescue work.

Gorie. (Monument in town centre.)

Stalin’s birth place in Gorie

Football stadium in Gorie.


Dzhava lies about 100 k north of Tbilisi and was under the control of Red Army troops.

Before we could travel, once again problems started to arise, interpreters could not be found and the bus driver refused to take us to the Djava region; we needed permission to travel to the area.

After a further meeting with the Prefect another bus and driver were found and the equipment was transferred, the interpreters were found and permission was granted to travel.

We arrived at Gori, (65 k north-west of Tbilisi) where a meeting had been arranged with another Prefect.

At this meeting the Prefect stated that all rescue work in the region had been completed and the reports he had received from other regions stated the same, he thanked us for coming to help and presented the team with a medallion.

A team meeting followed, and the decision to return to the U.K. was made.

Arrangements were then made by the Georgian Red Cross for a flight to Moscow at 2300 and the team arrived in Moscow at 0100 on Sunday 5th.

We were met at the airport by five cars of the Georgian Representative and raced through Moscow to the Georgian Representatives residence where we were to be accommodated.

Monday 6th May, all equipment was checked and packed ready for transportation to the airport a 1030 to catch the BA flight to Heathrow at 1600.

As usual we were well looked after by BA flight crew and arrived Heathrow at 1700 London time.

30 APRIL 1991

USSR Authorities through an UNDRO (United Nations Disaster Relief Organization) representative in Moscow reported:-
• 49 Dead, 360 injured, 17,000 houses destroyed and 80% damage to hospitals and schools.
• Main damage is registered in the region of the cities of Dzhava, Kvaisi, Oni, Ambrolauri, Sachkhere and Chiatura.
• National rescue and relief operations are underway. Foodstuffs and medical drugs being shipped
• LRCS (League of Red Cross Societies) and Soviet Red Cross Assessment Team including medical personnel from LRCS delegation/Armenia arrived in the disaster area.


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