Greek military defuses unexploded bomb from World War II

An unexploded bomb dating from World War II discovered under a gas station in Thessaloniki, Greece, prompted the evacuation of 75,000 people. 

Alexandros Avramidis/Reuters
Military personnel of the Hellenic Army's Explosives Ordnance Disposal (EOD) team discuss before an operation to defuse a 250 kg World War Two bomb that was found during excavation works at a gas station in the northern city of Thessaloniki, Greece, on Sunday.

Greece's military has successfully deactivated an unexploded bomb from World War II found under a gas station Sunday morning in Thessaloniki. The large explosive prompted the evacuation of estimated 75,000 people in the country's second-largest city.

While the bomb was safely defused, evacuees will not be allowed to return to their homes until the bomb is moved to a firing range later on Sunday, where authorities will determine the best method for disposing of the bomb.

While the scale of the evacuation one of the largest for a Greek urban area during peacetime, unexploded munitions from past wars have been a constantly recurring problem across Europe over the past several decades. The sheer amount of bombs and other explosives used during World War II in particular have prompted a steady stream of discoveries of unexploded devices every year since the war ended.

The bomb in Thessaloniki was a 500-pound explosive discovered during construction aiming to expand a local gas station's fuel tank capacity. Officials said the bomb was too degraded to tell whether it was an Allied or German device, but at least one resident who lived through WWII thought it was dropped during an Allied raid.

"The bombing was done by English and American planes on Sept. 17, 1944. It was Sunday lunchtime," Giorgos Gerasimou, 86, told the Associated Press, saying that he remembers the day clearly because one of his friends was killed during the raid, which targeted local German-controlled rail facilities.

Greece was occupied by Nazi Germany for a large portion of the war, from 1941 until October 1944. The occupation ended only a month after the raid identified by Mr. Gerasimou, when German troops retreated from mainland Greece to escape the advancing Soviet Army.

Mandatory evacuations to from the vicinity of the unexploded bomb began at 7 a.m. on Sunday morning, with police going door to door to remind people living within a 1.9-kilometer (1.2-mile) radius to leave the area. Most were able to leave in their own vehicles, but some were bussed to safe locations as a temporary measure. Greek military personnel in the Explosives Ordnance Disposal (EOD) unit began work on defusing the bomb at 11:30, about 90 minutes later than planned, but finished early, deactivating the device by noon.

"The first phase of the bomb disposal has been a total success," Central Macedonia governor Apostolos Tzizikostas announced. "There remains its removal from the site. Residents will still not be allowed in their homes, because the removal and transport contains dangers."

The evacuation orders will be lifted once the bomb is removed to a safe area.

While the evacuations will make this Sunday memorable for the residents of Thessaloniki, thousands of tons of unexploded munitions from World War II are still found in Europe every year. A particular hotspot for these sorts of discoveries is Germany, which was heavily bombed by the allies over the course of the war. Recently, a nearly two-ton bomb discovered in Augsburg, Germany prompted a Christmas Day evacuation of 54,000 people from the city, as the Christian Science Monitor previously reported.

This article contains material from the Associated Press and Reuters.

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