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After A Massive Evacuation, Greek City Defuses A World War II Bomb

After an unexploded World War II-era bomb was discovered buried next to a gas station in Thessaloniki, authorities in Greece's second-largest city had to figure out how to get it out of there.

They determined that tens of thousands of people would have to be removed from their homes as well.

By Sunday morning, all could breathe a sigh of relief.

After an evacuation of more than 70,000 people — one of Greece's largest-ever peacetime evacuations — Greek officials have confirmed that the 500-pound weapon has been deactivated by specialists. Reuters reports the bomb was removed from its resting place and taken to a military shooting range, where it will be destroyed.

"Phase two of the bomb removal operation was successfully completed," Central Macedonia Gov. Apostolos Tzitzikostas tweeted Sunday, according to the news service. "Citizens can safely return to their homes."

The weapon, which is about the size of a typical air-dropped bomb during World War II, was discovered about two weeks ago by a crew that had been working on underground pipes extending from the gas station. A Greek army spokesman said the bomb's exterior had so degraded they weren't sure whether it was a German or Allied bomb — but one 86-year-old resident says he remembers it quite well.

"The bombing was done by English and American planes on Sept. 17, 1944. It was Sunday lunchtime," Giorgos Gerasimou, whose home is half a mile from the bomb, told The Associated Press. "We could see the planes coming."

Residents who were within 1.2 miles of the bomb were told to leave their homes and businesses for a period of several hours, during which time many of them were taken to local gymnasiums, cafes and stadiums. The BBC notes that law enforcement went house to house in the affected areas, which were placed under a state of emergency.

Not everyone was put out by the hours-long evacuation. A group of refugees, many of them Syrian, took it as an opportunity for a day trip to the Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki, Reuters says. They're among the roughly 450 people living in a refugee camp based at a former toilet paper factory near the city — a government-run camp where women and children have been sexually assaulted, according to The Guardian.

Reuters reports that the field trip, which had been requested by the refugees, includes a trip to the White Tower, a monument often considered a symbol of Thessaloniki.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Colin Dwyer covers breaking news for NPR. He reports on a wide array of subjects — from politics in Latin America and the Middle East, to the latest developments in sports and scientific research.