Thousands evacuated from Greek town while Second World War bomb defused

Greek army officers conduct preparation work before they excavate an unexploded World War II bomb which was found 5 meters (over 16 feet) deep, at a gas station in Thessaloniki, Greece. Picture by Giannis Papanikos, Associated Press

A 500lbs Second World War bomb which sparked the evacuation of 75,000 people from a town in Greece has been successfully defused by army experts.

The bomb was found under a petrol station in the northern Greek city of Thessaloniki.

The evacuation started at 7am (0500 GMT) when police went house-to-house ringing bells and knocking on doors to remind people living within a 1.2-mile radius of the bomb, mostly in the western suburb of Kordelio, to leave their homes.

Within 30 minutes bomb disposal experts had defused the bomb, said Central Macedonia governor Apostolos Tzizikostas.

"The first phase of the bomb disposal has been a total success," Mr Tzizikostas announced. "There remains its removal from the site. Residents will still not be allowed in their homes, because the removal and transport contains dangers."

Many people left the area in their cars, but some were taken by bus 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, Yiannoula, headed out of their home.

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 the city's archaeological museum.

One resident recalled 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 half a mile away from the bomb site.

He said the Allies were targeting local German rail facilities and 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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