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Frankfurt Evacuates 60,000 People to Defuse World War II Bomb

Posted: September 4, 2017 at 2:03 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

BERLIN — A relic of the relentless pummeling that flattened much of Germany more than 70 years ago forced tens of thousands of people to temporarily abandon their homes on Sunday in Frankfurt.

Technicians worked for hours to defuse a 4,000-pound, World War II-era bomb, thought to have been dropped by the British Royal Air Force, after it was discovered on Tuesday at a construction site for faculty buildings on the edge of Goethe University.

More than 60,000 people living within about a mile of the bomb cleared out early Sunday from a well-to-do district that is home to some of Frankfurt’s banking elite, as well as Germany’s central bank, a day after two hospitals and several retirement homes were evacuated.

“For 7 a.m. on a Sunday, the streets were unusually active, but it wasn’t a rush,” said Anthony J. Garcia, a customer experience consultant in one of the city’s major financial services firms, who left his home early on Sunday. “Folks were being attentive to the demands and what they had to do.”

The police combed the streets and used a helicopter with a heat-sensitive camera to ensure that the area was clear, but the presence of several holdouts meant that the process did not begin at noon, as officials had hoped. The authorities said residents would be able to return to their homes by 8 p.m.

The sheer number of people who were evacuated — it is believed to be the largest in postwar Germany — spoke to the high risk involved, but such events have become routine here, so the authorities were prepared to deal with many people having nowhere to go.

The city’s Jahrhunderthalle convention center was opened, and, Mr. Garcia said, people arrived at a slow and steady pace. “There was no worry, no fright, no kind of rush,” he added.

The city’s main trade-fair complex opened early to accommodate the displaced as did a number of museums, which offered free entry to residents of the city. By lunchtime, the German Architecture Museum had been visited by more than 250 people who were forced to leave, the director, Peter Cachola Schmal, said.

“It’s a different atmosphere here today, because people are settling for a longer time,” he said. “People are coming here to sit with their laptop and work, for example — or read the newspaper for hours.”

The German authorities have calculated that around 15 percent of the bombs dropped during World War II failed to explode, and more than 2,000 tons of unexploded weaponry are found each year. In the rush to rebuild after the war, Germans often just buried the munitions, so many of them are only turning up now.

On Saturday about 21,000 people were forced to leave their homes in the western city of Koblenz after the discovery of a 1,100-pound American bomb earlier in the week. In July, the discovery of an unexploded wartime bomb among children’s toys led to the evacuation of a kindergarten in Darmstadt, just south of Frankfurt.

Dieter Schwaetzler, left, and Rene Bennert next to a World War II era bomb that they defused in Frankfurt.CreditMichael Probst/Associated Press

Experts say the bombs are just as dangerous as they were seven decades ago, even though the Germans are experienced at dealing with unexploded devices. Three explosives experts were killed in Göttingen in 2010 while preparing to defuse a much smaller bomb.

The bomb found in Frankfurt, formally called an HC 4000, was one of several types of large British munitions that became known as a “blockbuster,” owing to its sheer explosive force, which was often enough to destroy entire streets.

“My first thought was about whether my workplace would still exist on Monday,” said Vladimir Alexeev, the media coordinator and social media manager at Goethe University’s student center, who works less than a quarter of a mile from the site where the bomb was found.

By some estimates, the Royal Air Force dropped almost 16,000 tons of bombs on Frankfurt between 1939 and 1945, killing thousands. The city’s medieval center was virtually destroyed by Allied campaigns, and in their aftermath, the World War I aviator and historian Bruce Hopper noted that the city looked like a “magnified” version of Pompeii.

“It reverberates the impacts of the war,” Mr. Garcia said. “Not only for folks here, but for everyone just having to understand that one country dumped so many munitions on another country that 70 years later, they’re still dealing with it.”


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