By Rachel Simon
When the levels of the Rhine fell to historic lows this fall, the receding water in Koblenz, Germany revealed quite a surprise. Hidden for decades beneath the surface were two enormous, un-detonated World War II-era bombs. Weighing in at 4,000 and 275 pounds respectively, the bombs were successfully defused over the weekend (whew!) – but only after 45,000 people, nearly half of the city’s population, were evacuated. It was the largest German evacuation since the end of the war.
Before you breathe a sigh of relief, read on. This was by no means an isolated incident.
Experts estimate between 5% and 15% of bombs dropped in WWII air raids did not explode. When cities hastened to rebuild after the end of the war, many of the bombs went undiscovered, lying dormant beneath buildings, underground, and even underwater as in the case of Koblenz. In the past ten years, there have been dozens of discoveries and defusions of these un-detonated bombs across Europe, as well as in Tokyo and Guam.
In May 2008, nearly 16,500 Tokyo residents were evacuated while a one-ton bomb dropped by an American B-29 was defused. The next month, workers found a German 2,200-pounder at a construction site for the 2012 London Olympics. Just last summer, over 65 years after V-E day, a 2,000-pound aerial mine exploded in Germany, killing three workers and seriously injuring three others attempting to defuse it.
If you need another reason to lay awake at night, the bombs are becoming increasingly unstable as they age. Some experts believe they may soon be unable to safely detonate them.
So, it turns out we’re still cleaning up from the Second World War. I wonder how long it will take to clean up the messes left behind by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.