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What you need to know about WWII bomb disposals in Germany

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What you need to know about WWII bomb disposals in Germany
A 1.8-tonne WWII bomb that was successfully defused in Frankfurt last September. Photo: DPA
12:25 CEST+02:00
From the evacuation of homes to the disruption of public transport, residents in Berlin will likely be affected on Friday as a bomb from the Second World War near the main station is set to be defused. But more than 70 years after the end of the war, finding such bombs is actually quite common.

What's the history of Berlin in relation to the Second World War?

By the end of the Second World War, Berlin had suffered greatly. A large portion of the population - almost two million people - had fled the city.

With huge piles of rubble everywhere, one of the most modern cities in Europe at the time had become a wasteland.

Of the nearly 400 air raids that took place in Berlin between 1940 and 1945, American and British bombers combined dropped around 70,000 tonnes of bombs on the city.

Berlin in 1945. Photo: DPA

Museums, churches, monuments and various other cultural sites fell victim to the bombs. One in particular, the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, is today a landmark and memorial.

After an Allied bombing, its main spire broke off and its roof collapsed. Now the church is preserved as a memorial against war and destruction. For the past several years, it's been undergoing extensive renovation.

Some 3,000 unexploded bombs are believed to still lie buried in Berlin, a city of three million people, where bomb disposal squads are well-practiced in defusing them and other ordnance.

How often are Second World War bombs found?

Discovering bombs from the past is an everyday thing in Germany.

In 2011 it was estimated that over 5,500 unexploded bombs or weapons including shells, grenades, mines, and ammunition from the Second World War that need to be defused are uncovered each year. The daily average is 15, most of them aerial bombs.

They land in fishing nets, are pulled up by excavators during road construction work, or inadvertently removed from fields by farmers.

While no one knows exactly how many still lurk under the ground, we live on top of an estimated more than 100,000 bombs, all of which have the potential to cause catastrophes. Especially affected are the areas which were heavily bombarded during the Second World War  - the Ruhr district, Cologne, Hamburg, and Berlin, but also smaller cities like Wesel or Koblenz.

The number of evacuations that take place in Germany each year varies depending on the severity and size of the bomb. Over the past few years, many evacuations have taken place across the country.

The bomb uncovered in Augsburg in 2016. Photo: DPA.

In May last year, 50,000 people in Hanover had to evacuate due to several bombs which were found in the area. Comparatively fewer people - 200 residents - were forced to temporarily leave their homes near Munich in March 2017. So the number of residents who need to evacuate during a bomb disposal varies greatly.

One of the largest evacuations to take place after the Second World War was due to a 3.8 tonne British-made bomb found in Augsburg, meaning around 54,000 people had to leave their homes on Christmas Eve in 2016.

But the biggest post-war evacuation thus far occurred in Frankfurt last year in late summer, when some 60,000 people had to leave their homes due to a 1.8 tonne British bomb.

SEE ALSO: Largest ever evacuation set to take place in Frankfurt after WWII bomb found

More recently in Berlin, about 10,000 people were forced to vacate their residences and underground and suburban rail traffic was disrupted in October last year when an unexploded Second World War bomb was defused in the west of the city.

How safe are bomb disposals and evacuations?

Bombs from the Second World War continue to pose a considerable threat. Since so many of them haven't been detected, the explosive bodies are still intact and therefore just as dangerous as during the war.

They can also become increasingly sensitive by ageing and external influences such as vibrations, changes in position or temperature fluctuations can lead to them exploding.

It's rare though for people nowadays to be killed or injured by accidental explosions.

In November 2013, the defusing of a 500 kilogram bomb in Brandenburg resulted in significant damage. A home was destroyed and had to be demolished. Several other buildings were also damaged.

In 2012, the disposal of a 250 kilogram American bomb in the centre of Munich was unsuccessful. Facades were damaged and numerous windows were broken.

Three people were killed and two seriously injured in a routine bomb disposal in Göttingen in June 2010.

Back in 1994, three construction workers were killed in Berlin when a bomb exploded in a construction pit. Several buildings and cars were severely damaged.

Two explosives experts in Hesse died during the defusing of a bomb in August 1990.

A controlled explosion of a WWII bomb in Leipzig in 2014. Photo: DPA

What's the typical protocol during a bomb evacuation?

When a Second World War bomb is found in Germany, immediate measures must be taken.

Any disposal is accompanied by extensive closures and the evacuation of the direct surroundings. Affected residential areas must be evacuated for a few hours while explosives experts move in.

People who live or work near the bomb must evacuate. This is not a request, but an arrangement that residents must follow for their own safety.

Residents can be forced by officials at the municipal office to leave their homes if they refuse to comply.

For the period of disposal, the city usually provides an assembly point where residents can stay. The employees of the municipal office, the fire department and the police let people know of the location as soon as it is determined.

It is not possible to say ahead of a bomb disposal how long the evacuation will take. Residents are usually required to spend several hours away from their homes before it is safe to return.

The airspace near the bomb site may also be blocked, as well as all railway lines within the affected radius and all footpaths in the immediate area.

How will the disposal affect residents and travellers in Berlin on Friday?

Police say that the area around the bomb, which was recently discovered at a building site north of the capital's central station, will have to be evacuated by the time preparations for the disposal begin at 9am on Friday.

Since this will affect an 800-metre area in the vicinity of the 500-kilogram bomb, the main station will be temporarily completely closed on Friday. Regional and long distance trains will no longer be able to arrive at the rail hub during the defusal period. Local S-Bahn and U-Bahn services also face major disruption.

SEE ALSO: Berlin threatened with travel chaos after 500kg WWII bomb found at main station

With regards to air traffic, Tegel Airport will see disruptions for aircraft that are landing during the defusal period. 

According to Tagesspiegel, thousands of residents who live in the area will need to leave their homes.

Two shelters will be set up for those who need accomodation, the police announced.

“The operation will be big and it will be difficult,” a police spokesperson said.

More information will be provided on Friday via the Berlin police's @PolizeiBerlin_E Twitter account.

With AFP

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