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60,000 people leave homes in Frankfurt so huge WWII bomb can be defused

The operation is the biggest evacuation of its kind in post-war Germany.

bomb Demolition experts Rene Bennert (left) and Dieter Schwetzler pictured in Frankfurt today Source: Frank Rumpenhorst/DPA/PA Images

AT LEAST 60,000 people were forced to leave their homes in central Frankfurt today, as Germany begins an operation to defuse a huge unexploded World War II bomb dubbed ‘blockbuster’.

The operation is the biggest evacuation of its kind in post-war Germany, Frankfurt’s security chief Markus Frank said.

The 1.8-tonne British bomb, which German media said was nicknamed ‘wohnblockknacker’ — or blockbuster — for its ability to wipe out whole streets and flatten buildings, was discovered on Tuesday during building works.

Police have since been guarding the bomb site, which is close to the city centre and just some 2.5 kilometres north of the main Zeil shopping area.

Homes and buildings within a 1.5-kilometre radius of the site were due to be cleared by 6am Irish time, 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 the 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 the bomb disposal units to move in. The city’s firefighter service said it was still receiving calls from people in the district who needed help getting out.

“There’re still people surfacing, and they need to be brought out of the evacuation zone,” said a spokesman for Frankfurt’s firefighting service, adding that this process was “incredibly annoying and time-consuming”.

Others had packed their bags and were ready to head out for a full day, as residents are required to stay away until around 6pm Irish time.

Bankers, babies 

The Westend district is home to many of Frankfurt’s top bankers, including European Central Bank chief Mario Draghi, who is known however to spend his weekends away from the German city.

Two major hospitals are also within the evacuation zone, including one with a big ward of newborns. Staff at the affected hospitals had transferred patients and infants to other medical centres yesterday.

The massive bomb in question is a HC 4000 – a high-capacity explosive used in air raids by Britain’s Royal Air Force during World War II – that contains 1.4 tonnes of explosives.

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Although police have said there is no immediate danger, the bomb’s massive size prevents them from taking any chances during the disarming process.

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.

Yesterday, 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.

One of the biggest such evacuations to date 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.

© AFP 2017

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