Frankfurt evacuates thousands to defuse World War II bomb

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WWII-era bomb successfully defused in Frankfurt: DW's Dani...

Experts have defused a World War II bomb in Frankfurt after the largest evacuation in Germany since 1945. More than 60,000 people had to leave their homes as the device was made safe.

In the early evening, Frankfurt police announced the bomb had been made safe, with a police tweet reading: "It's done! World War bomb in Frankfurt successfully defused!'

Pedestrians, cyclists and public transport were the first to be allowed to return, as car drivers were asked to let ambulances go before them. It was still expected to be hours before everyone could return to their homes.

Thousands of residents were forced to evacuate a Frankfurt district on Sunday before experts began the operation at a construction site where the device was found earlier in the week.

Authorities cleared nearly 60,000 people from a 1.5 kilometer (0.57 square mile) area in the Westend district, warning that the 1.8 metric ton (4,000-pound) bomb could flatten an entire block if it exploded.

Hospital patients and the elderly were among those affected in what was Germany's biggest evacuation in recent history.

The high capacity bomb, also dubbed a Blockbuster, was one of thousands dropped over Germany by the Royal Air Force during the final years of World War II to cripple the Nazi war machine and demoralize the German population. 

Authorities warned that if the bomb had exploded, the shock wave could have caused widespread damage throughout the western part of the city.

Unexploded ordnance in Germany - a legacy of the Allied Forces

What is unexploded ordnance?

Unexploded ordnance (UXO or sometimes also abbreviated to UO), unexploded bombs (UXBs), or explosive remnants of war (ERW) are explosive weapons such as bombs, shells, grenades, land mines, naval mines and cluster munitions that did not explode when they were deployed. Unexploded ordnance still poses the risk of detonation, even decades after they were used or discarded.

Unexploded ordnance in Germany - a legacy of the Allied Forces

Why does Germany have a bomb problem?

Between 1940 and 1945, US and British forces dropped 2.7 million tons of bombs on Europe. Half of those bombs targeted Germany. Experts estimate that close to a quarter of a million bombs did not explode due to technical faults. Thousands of these bombs are still hidden underground, sometimes a few meters down and sometimes just below the surface.

Unexploded ordnance in Germany - a legacy of the Allied Forces

How big is the issue?

The industrial Ruhr area and the Lower Rhine region were heavily bombed, as were the cities of Dresden, Hamburg and Hanover. So this is where most of the unexploded ordnance is found. Bombs are usually unearthed during construction work or are discovered during the examination of historical aerial images. Experts say it could still take decades to clear all of the remaining unexploded ordnance.

Unexploded ordnance in Germany - a legacy of the Allied Forces

What happens when an unexploded bomb is found?

When confronted with the discovery of an UXO, UO or a UXB, bomb disposal experts have to decide whether to defuse it or to carry out a controlled explosion. Many have lost their lives on the job. German authorities are under pressure to remove unexploded ordnance from populated areas. Experts argue that the bombs are becoming more dangerous as time goes by due to material fatigue.

Unexploded ordnance in Germany - a legacy of the Allied Forces

How many bomb disposal experts have died?

Eleven bomb technicians have been killed in Germany since 2000, including three who died in a single explosion while trying to defuse a 1,000-pound bomb on the site of a popular flea market in Göttingen in 2010.

Unexploded ordnance in Germany - a legacy of the Allied Forces

Which was the biggest evacuation?

A 1.8-ton bomb dropped by Britain’s Royal Air Force (RAF) was found in the city center of Augsburg on December 20, 2016. The find prompted a large-scale bomb disposal operation and consequently the evacuation of over 54,000 people on December 25. To date, this remains the biggest evacuation for the removal of World War II unexploded ordnance in Germany.

Unexploded ordnance in Germany - a legacy of the Allied Forces

What’s the latest?

Authorities conducted another big bomb disposal operation in May 2017, with 50,000 residents in the northwestern city of Hanover forced to evacuate their homes. Thirteen unexploded ordnances from the 1940s were removed. Hanover was a frequent target of Allied bombing in the latter years of the war. On October 9, 1943, some 261,000 bombs were dropped on the city.

By 3 p.m. local time (1300 UTC) police reported that one fuse had been successfully removed from the device and two hours later, the second was removed:

According to the local Frankfurter Rundschau, the bomb still had to be transported from the area meaning the streets might not be cleared for people and car traffic to return until 8 p.m.

The evacuation was completed and police tweeted a picture of the "ideal sight for an evacuation zone" at 2 p.m. local time (1200 UTC):

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Ambulances and transport vehicles also helped move the elderly and sick from the area, which includes two hospitals and Germany's central bank.

The city's trade fair was used as a temporary shelter during the estimated four-hour bomb defusing operation. 

Evacuated residents wait for the all-clear at a temporary shelter

Germany littered with bombs

The bomb is believed to be a British bomb dating back to Allied raids on the city. 

Such evacuations are common in Germany, where Allied air forces dropped 1.5 million tons of bombs that killed 600,000 people and flattened cities.  An estimated 10 percent of the bombs failed to explode.

In December last year, a British 1.8 metric ton blockbuster bomb was found in Augsburg. More than 54,000 people had to leave their homes on Christmas Day while it was defused.

That to date was the largest evacuation since the end of World War II more than 70 years ago.

On Saturday, about 20,000 residents in Koblenz were evacuated to allow experts to defuse a half-ton US bomb.

es/jm (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)

A view of bombing destruction in Frankfurt's old town in 1945.