German explosives experts started to defuse a massive World War II bomb in Frankfurt on Sunday after tens of thousands of people evacuated their homes.
The bomb was discovered on a building site last week and around 60,000 people were ordered to leave their residences in what was Germany’s biggest evacuation since the war.
The work by bomb technicians started later than planned as some people refused to leave the evacuation area despite fire chiefs warning that an uncontrolled explosion would be big enough to flatten a city block.
More than a thousand emergency service workers helped to clear the area and a steady flow of people filed into a temporary shelter at Frankfurt’s trade fair site, enjoying bananas and beverages on offer. Others sat in cafes on the edge of the evacuation zone.
The device was found last week in the city’s leafy Westend neighborhood, home to many wealthy bankers. The evacuation area includes Germany’s central bank, the Bundesbank, where $70 billion in gold reserves are stored.
Police set up cordons around the evacuation area, which covered a radius of 1.5 km (roughly a mile).
Premature babies and intensive care patients had to be evacuated along with everyone else from two hospitals and rescue workers helped about 500 elderly people leave residences and care homes.
Bomb disposal experts were set to 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.
The bomb was dropped by Britain’s Royal Air Force during the 1939-45 war, city officials said. British and American warplanes pummeled Germany with 1.5 million tons of bombs that killed 600,000 people. Officials estimate 15 percent of the bombs failed to explode, some burrowing six meters (yards) deep.
More than 2,000 tons 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 World War II bomb on a shelf among some toys.
Three police explosives experts in Goettingen were killed in 2010 while preparing to defuse a 1,000 lb (450 kg) bomb.
In Frankfurt, roads and transport systems, including parts of the underground, were to remain 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.
Museums were offering residents free entry on Sunday, and many hotels offered discounts.