Seven caimans escaped an overflowing lagoon in Paraguay, invaded a nearby town center and terrified residents for hours before being captured in a risky operation by volunteer firefighters, officials told AFP Thursday.
The toothy reptilians, between 1.5 and two meters (4.9-6.6 feet) long, took to the commercial center of Ita in south Paraguay, ambling down the streets after their watery home broke its banks in a rainstorm.
Some of the creatures -- cousins of alligators and crocodiles -- looked in at shop doors, scaring passers-by who called the authorities.
The caimans got out Wednesday after a retaining wall of the Ita Lagoon, where they are an attraction, collapsed in heavy rains, said fire brigade spokesman Francisco Platon.
The creatures "left to seek refuge on dry ground and to rest," he told AFP.
"Luckily it happened at night," said Diego Caputo of the Ita municipality.
Even so, several people got close enough to take photos or videos of the animals, which they posted on social media. Some even dared touch the scaly giants.
"The caimans are an attraction of the city park but they are a danger when things like this happen that are beyond our control," added Caputo.
Paraguay has seen heavy downpours since last week, causing damage to homes and streets and triggering power cuts.
The weather office is predicting more rain for the days to come.
A local NGO that goes by the name of "Let's save the Ita Lagoon," said in a statement that the body of water has an overpopulation of caimans, known locally as yacares.
"In time they could pose a danger to people. For lack of food they could attack," it said, and warned people not to try to touch the animals.
The fire department, for its part, urged citizens on Twitter to call the emergency number "if anyone sees another yacare in the street."
Ita is a town of some 75,000 inhabitants 30 kilometers (18.6 miles) south of the Paraguayan capital Asuncion.