Tired, hungry and penniless, her dark and bloodshot eyes betraying stressful days and sleepless nights, Manana Karelidze banged her head over and over against a concrete ledge.
She was one of the first to arrive at the Department of Refugees in this Georgian capital, and for the first few days had camped out on the street awaiting registration and the daily supplies of dry pasta that came with it. Hundreds were doing the same.
“This is too much. It is all too much,” said Karelidze, a 50-year-old retired accountant, raising her head to reveal bruises.
She is one of an estimated 56,000 Georgians who have fled to other parts of the nation since war between Georgia and Russia broke out a week ago. Most are from the ravaged town of Gori and ethnic Georgian villages in the breakaway province of South Ossetia. About 30,000 have fled across the border into Russia.
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U.S. military cargo jets have begun arriving, carrying syringes, bandages, tents and other supplies for Georgians wounded or displaced by the fighting. Still, some areas have been slow to receive any international help.
Outside the Department of Refugees on Thursday, the size of the logistical task facing the Georgian government was evident. Officials announced the registration procedure had collapsed under the weight of applicants: The previous day, eight staff had registered more than 8,000 refugees, most from Gori.
Now the war victims were to cross town and register in the federal Civil Registration Center. But that center was also buckling to the task and was only registering those who could stay with relatives.
The head of the Department of Refugees, Tengis Bendeliavi, said the situation was “extremely critical.”
The capital has made about 170 city buildings, including schools and warehouses, available for refugees, but even that is not enough.
“We allow the refugees to stay in any unused building they can find,” Bendeliavi said.
Tbilisians have also pitched in, offering to share their homes and workplaces with the refugees.
On the Russian side, Sarmat Kapisov ran all night through the forest with his family, fleeing the fighting in South Ossetia and headed for the Georgia-Russia border. On his back, the 17-year-old carried his brother, who has cerebral palsy.
“It wasn't easy,” Kapisov said, huddled alongside his mother and seven siblings, who have taken refuge here at an Orthodox convent across the Russian border.
The convent director, known as Mother Nonna, said thousands have passed through since the bloodshed began one week ago in the pro-Russian separatist province claimed by Georgia.
Most were South Ossetian women and children on their way to a refugee center set up inside a summer camp by Russian authorities. Many of the fathers and older brothers stayed behind to fight.
Mother Nonna said she had never seen so many terrified children clinging to their mothers' skirts.
“The most difficult thing was to answer their question: Where was God?” she said. “They had so much fear in their eyes.”