An unexploded WWII bomb found under a gas station in the northern Greek city of Thessaloniki was defused on Sunday, authorities have said. The item was safely taken to an army firing range outside the city, paving the way for over 70,000 people to return to their homes.

The roads in western Thessaloniki and the suburb of Kordelio, where most of those forced to evacuate came from, have now reopened. Authorities had shut down a 1.9 kilometre (1.2-mile) radius for experts to safely work on the bomb.

The US-made 275-pound (125-kilogram) bomb was “badly corroded, but its detonation mechanism was still in very good condition,” said Army spokesman Col. Nikos Fanios.

The Army had initially estimated that the WWII bomb weighed 500 pounds (227 kilograms). Officials said it was 1.5 meters (5 feet) long. Similar bombs have been found in previous years near the Macedonia Airport in the east of the city, but, with the area being mostly open fields, no large-scale evacuation had been deemed necessary.

Evacuating 70,000 people

Sunday’s evacuation started at 7am, with police going from house to house ringing bells and knocking on doors to remind people to leave. Bomb disposal specialists then started work at 11:30am, 90 minutes later than planned, but defused the bomb in only 30 minutes, Central Macedonia governor Apostolos Tzizikostas announced.

Calling the operation “a total success,” he said it was the largest peacetime population evacuation in Greece and estimated it involved 70,000 people. Many people left the area in their cars, but some were bused to schools and sports halls elsewhere in the city.

The city’s main bus station was shut down, trains in the area were halted and churches cancelled Sunday services. The city also booked a 175-room hotel where people with limited mobility were taken on Saturday.
Among the evacuees were 450 refugees staying at a former factory who were bused to visit the city’s archaeological museum.

One resident recalled the day the bomb fell

“The bombing was done by English and American planes on September 17th, 1944. It was Sunday lunchtime,” said Giorgos Gerasimou, 86, whose home is half a mile away from the bomb site.

He said the Allies were targeting local German rail facilities. He remembers the day clearly because one of his 10-year-old friends was killed in the bombing.

Nazi Germany occupied Greece from 1941 until October 1944.

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Wwii bomb defused in greece; 70,000 evacuees heading home