British ‘blockbuster’ bomb from second world war forces massive evacuation of Frankfurt
It will be the biggest evacuation of its kind in post-war Germany
Thousands of residents of Frankfurt left their homes early on Sunday before the planned defusing of a massive second world war bomb discovered on a building site in the German financial capital.
A steady flow of people filed into a temporary centre at Frankfurt’s trade fair site, in Germany’s biggest evacuation since the war.
The bomb was found last week in the city’s leafy Westend suburb, where many wealthy bankers live, and the evacuation area included the country’s central bank where US$70 billion in gold reserves are stored.
German media said the 1.8-tonne British bomb was nicknamed “Wohnblockknacker” – or blockbuster – for its ability to wipe out whole streets and flatten buildings.
— Feuerwehr Frankfurt (@feuerwehrffm) September 3, 2017
Around 60,000 people had to leave their homes and Frankfurt fire and police chiefs said they would use force if necessary to clear the area, warning that an uncontrolled explosion of the bomb would be big enough to flatten a city block.
Police set up cordons around the evacuation area, which covered a radius of 1.5km, as residents dragged suitcases away and many families rode away from the zone by bicycle.
The fire service said the evacuation of two hospitals, including premature babies and patients in intensive care, had been completed and they were now helping about 500 elderly people leave residences and care homes.
David Hoffmann, 29, who works at a bank, was putting away his luggage in his car.
“I have the essentials with me – the most important documents,” he said, complaining that he had received no leaflets about the evacuation.
Claudia Schmitt, 61, who also works at a bank, was planning to go to the city’s exhibition hall which has been turned into emergency lodgings.
“I have a book with me, the autobiography of Bruce Springsteen – 600 pages,” she said.
More than 2,000 tonnes of live bombs and munitions are found each year in Germany, even under buildings. In July, a kindergarten was evacuated after teachers discovered an unexploded second world war bomb on a shelf among some toys.
In Frankfurt, bomb disposal experts will use a special system to try and unscrew the fuses attached to the HC 4,000 bomb from a safe distance. If that fails, a water jet will be used to cut the fuses away from the bomb.
During the second world war, British and American warplanes pummelled the country with 1.5 million tonnes of bombs, killing 600,000 people. Officials estimate 15 per cent of the bombs failed to explode, some burrowing six metres deep.
Three police explosives experts in Goettingen were killed in 2010 while preparing to defuse a 450kg bomb.
Frankfurt police said they would ring every doorbell and use helicopters with heat-sensing cameras to make sure nobody is left behind before they start defusing the bomb on Sunday.
Roads and transport systems, including the parts of the underground, will be closed during the work and for at least two hours after the bomb is defused, to allow patients to be transported back to hospitals.
Air traffic from Frankfurt airport could also be affected and small private planes, helicopters and drones were banned from the evacuation zone. Most museums were offering residents free entry on Sunday.
Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse