THESSALONIKI, Greece // Authorities in the northern Greek city of Thessaloniki evacuated an estimated 75,000 people on Sunday while army experts defused a 227 kilogram unexploded Second World War bomb found under a petrol station.
The evacuation started at 7am with police officers going from house-to-house, ringing bells and knocking on doors to remind people living within a 2-kilometre radius, mostly in the western suburb of Kordelio, to leave their homes.
Bomb disposal experts started work at 11.30am, 90 minutes later than planned, but defused the bomb in only 30 minutes, the governor of Central Macedonia, Apostolos Tzizikostas announced.
“The first phase of the bomb disposal has been a total success,” he said. “There remains its removal from the site. Residents will still not be allowed in their homes, because the removal and transport contains dangers.”
The bomb was to be taken to an army firing range.
Many people left the area in their cars, but some were bussed to schools and sports halls elsewhere in the city.
“We heard on TV that, if the bomb explodes, it will be like a strong earthquake,” Michalis Papanos, 71, said as he and his wife left their home.
Alexander Bogdani and his wife, Anna Bokonozi, left on foot, with their toddler daughter in a pushchair.
“They have warned us ... we are afraid for the child,” Mr Bogdani said.
The city’s main bus station was shut down, trains in the area were halted and churches cancelled their Sunday services. The city also booked a 175-room hotel where people with limited mobility and their escorts were taken on Saturday.
Among the evacuees were 450 refugees staying at a former factory, who were taken to visit the city’s archaeological museum.
One resident said he could recall the day the bomb fell.
“The bombing was done by English and American planes on September 17, 1944. It was Sunday lunchtime,” said Giorgos Gerasimou, 86, whose home is less than a kilometre from the bomb site.
He said the Allies were targeting German rail facilities and he remembered 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.
* Associated Press