'Blockbuster' WWII bomb forces evacuation of 60,000 in Frankfurt

By AFP/Carsten Hauptmeier   September 3, 2017 | 06:31 pm PT
'Blockbuster' WWII bomb forces evacuation of 60,000 in Frankfurt
Bomb disposal expert Rene Bennert and Dieter Schweizler speak next to defused massive World War Two bomb after tens of thousands of people evacuated their homes in Frankfurt, Germany, September 3, 2017. Photo by Reuters/Kai Pfaffenbach
More than 70 years after the end of the war, unexploded bombs are regularly found buried in Germany.

At least 60,000 Frankfurt residents were forced to leave their homes on Sunday, in Germany's biggest post-war evacuation, to allow bomb disposal experts to defuse a huge unexploded World War II bomb dubbed the "blockbuster".

The 1.8-ton British bomb, which German media said was nicknamed "Wohnblockknacker" -- or blockbuster -- for its ability to wipe out whole streets and flatten buildings, was discovered during building works last Tuesday.

The operation in central Frankfurt to get residents to safety was the biggest evacuation of its kind in post-war Germany, the city's security chief Markus Frank said.

After hours of delay as police struggled to get the area cleared, bomb disposal experts finally managed to disarm the explosive in the evening.

Police then began lifting the evacuation order progressively, giving priority for patients in two hospitals within the affected district to be brought back to their wards.

Close to the city center, the bomb was discovered in the Westend district, home to many of Frankfurt's top bankers, including European Central Bank chief Mario Draghi -- who is known to spend his weekends away from the city.

War memories

The massive operation began at dawn, as homes and buildings within a 1.5-kilometer radius of the site were ordered cleared by 06:00 GMT.

But some people were still in the evacuation zone well past the deadline as police carried out door-to-door checks.

At one building where officers were ringing doorbells and using loudspeakers to announce the evacuation, a man and a woman emerged, saying they were unaware they were in the affected district.

At midday, emergency services were still unable to give the all-clear for bomb disposal units to move in.

After a delay of at least two hours, experts were finally able to start disarming the bomb, an HC 4000, a high-capacity explosive used in air raids by Britain's Royal Air Force during World War II.

Some elderly residents affected by the evacuation recalled poignant memories of the war.

"I was here in Frankfurt's Westend during the war. I heard the bombs falling when I was in the basement, and I helped to extinguish the fires. So I knew how it feels and for me it's not a new experience," said Doris Scheidt, 91.

Another resident, Eva Jarchow, said the evacuation "reminds me of our flight from Berlin when the bombs were still falling during the war. Here, at least, it's calm and sunny."

Giesela Gulich, meanwhile, had a "queasy feeling about it (as) the bomb stayed in the soil for so long, but now, when it's being moved, you don't know what can happen."

City officials had readied halls as temporary lodgings, while museums were offering free entry.

Others had packed their bags and were ready to head out for a full day.

David Hoffmann, 29, who works at a bank, was loading up luggage in his car.

"I have the essentials with me -- the most important documents," he said, though he complained that he had not received any leaflets about the evacuation.

Unexploded WWII bombs

More than 70 years after the end of the war, unexploded bombs are regularly found buried in Germany, legacies of the intense bombing campaigns by the Allied forces against Nazi Germany.

On Saturday, 21,000 people had to be evacuated from the western city of Koblenz as bomb disposal experts defused an unexploded American World War II shell.

In May, 50,000 residents were forced to leave their homes in the northern city of Hanover for an operation to defuse several WWII-era bombs.

And one of the biggest such evacuations took place on Christmas Day 2016, when another unexploded British bomb, containing 1.8-tonnes of explosives, prompted the evacuation of 54,000 people in the southern city of Augsburg.

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